Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Chodorow & Johnston:  Trump's Wrong-Headed Call For Tax-Subsidized Politicization Of The Pulpit

Trump (2016)Following up on Sunday's post, Trump's Call To Repeal The Johnson Amendment And Allow Churches To Endorse Political Candidates:  

Adam Chodorow (Arizona State), Donald Trump Wants to Politicize the Pulpit:

One of the biggest applause lines of the Republican convention was Donald Trump’s call to repeal the so-called Johnson Amendment, which, among other things, conditions churches’ tax-exempt status on ministers refraining from political speech at their pulpits. Critics such as Trump argue that ministers have First Amendment speech rights, which they say the government is infringing by restricting religious organizations in this manner. ...

In truth, it’s a lot more complicated than that. With Trump, it always is. Because on closer inspection, it’s clear that the Johnson Amendment, made law in 1954, serves an important function: preventing the government from subsidizing political speech. And repealing the law could lead to more entanglement of church and state—not less. ...

So what is the problem with political speech from the pulpit? The answer lies in the nature of the tax subsidy that churches and other tax-exempt organizations receive and the government’s decision not to subsidize political speech. Subject to the various contribution limits, people can donate all they want to candidates, political parties, and political action committees, but they cannot deduct those amounts from their tax bills. Allowing deductions would mean that taxpayers would be subsidizing—through the tax code—the political activities of others. Allowing churches (and other tax-exempt organizations) to engage in political activities would create a backdoor way to subsidize political speech. And because it would happen through tax deductions for the donors, wealthier taxpayers in higher brackets would get the biggest subsidies. ...

Unless and until we decide to subsidize all political speech (via, say, campaign finance reform), we need to think long and hard about allowing churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations to become more politically active. Making it easier for churches to tie themselves to political parties and politicians could lead to even greater entanglement between church and government than now exists, and it could ultimately do serious harm to them both.

David Cay Johnston (The Daily Beast), Donald Trump’s Big Lie About the Law That ‘Threatens’ Christians:

The self-identified Presbyterian calls those who embrace the best known teachings of Jesus “schmucks.”

Here’s what the Johnson amendment said: Religious organizations—which by definition include churches, synagogues and mosques—are free to declare their beliefs. One can urge a Constitutional amendment banning all abortion, another can preach that abortion is a woman’s right and others anything in between.

The law imposes only three limits on charities, including religious institutions, in return for the privilege of donors being allowed to deduct their contributions. One is that any surplus—what in business would be a profit—cannot go to any individual or shareholder. Second, propaganda and influencing legislation are allowed, but only as a minor activity, the limits on which Congress adjusts from time to time. The third and most important limit is that charitable organizations cannot “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Note that the limit is not about political views, as Trump said, but about supporting candidates. Those are not synonymous, not even close. ...

Harvey P. Dale, a New York University law professor who directs its National Center on Philanthropy and the Law, noted that if Trump really means to limit his repeal to religious institutions it would violate the First Amendment, which in its opening words states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Professor Dale warns that unscrupulous political operatives “with only a thin veneer of being religious” would almost certainly create religious institutions just to provide donors with tax deductions for their political donations while nonreligious charities would be treated differently. That would create an almost impossible situation for the tax police, the IRS officials whose job is to enforce the tax laws Congress enacts. ...

The ministers who openly endorse Trump evidently have not studied the contrast between what he says in their presence and what he says and does when he is not flattering them. Those pastors and their flocks would be wise to review the many scriptures on deceivers, starting with Romans 16:17-19, which in one modern translation warns:

 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offences, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil. ...

Pastors who inquire will find an extensive body of evidence from Trump’s words and deeds showing that he aggressively opposes Christ’s message. Those clergy who foolishly embrace Trump as a fellow believer will one day face judgement, called upon to explain their role in deceiving their flocks.

Political News, Tax | Permalink


I agree that repeal is a bad idea. It is tricky enough to discern the boundaries of "religion" and "church" without incentivizing the creation of "churches" whose "religion" is chiefly political.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Jul 27, 2016 11:59:16 AM