Friday, July 22, 2016

The Ban on Non-Profits Endorsing Candidates is Good for the Church


Donald Trump says that "an amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocated their political views."

Trump's claim is mostly false - religious institutions often advocate their political views.  What they can't do is advocate voting for specific candidates. Moreover, the law that Johnson pushed was not aimed at religious institutions, but rather at red-baiting McCarthyite organizations.  Since the law covered all tax-exempt non-profits, it also covered religious institutions. 

I think this law is actually very good for the churches.  I expect my church and pastor to promote decency and justice, which sometimes mean taking a side in a political argument.  However, that is different from endorsing or opposing specific candidates.  Candidates are people with a mix of vices and virtues - some of which will only be revealed in the future.  The potential for corruption in the short run, and embarrassment in the long run, of allying the church with specific candidates, is very great.  


The current law, which was not made for or about religious institutions, has worked to our advantage.


2 comments:

Teresa C said...

Dr. Weston,
I agree wholeheartedly! The church I had been attending has a broad mix of political views, which I think is quite healthy for churches. The current county solicitor is a member. My dad was the pastor of the church for 18 years until he retired in 2014. When he was pastor there, the candidate asked if she could place campaign signs on the church property. My dad told her no and why. During the local election this past spring, the same person was up for re-election. I noticed three campaign signs on the church property. Even though I fully support this person, I was terribly bothered by the signs. To me, church is about being a safe place for all people. Putting up signs for a particular candidate takes away this safety. Signs for a particular candidate send a message that if I don't support that candidate, then I am not welcome. I did not push the issue because I have not been attending with any regularity. However, if Trump or Clinton signs start showing up (which I know won't happen), you can bet I'll be having a discussion about the theological implications of a church backing a particular candidate. BTW, churches in Georgia do not enjoy tax-exempt status at the state level.
Teresa Cramer

Mac said...

First: I agree with you completely.

However, one thing you wrote bothers me: "Moreover, the law that Johnson pushed was not aimed at religious institutions, but rather at red-baiting McCarthyite organizations. Since the law covered all tax-exempt non-profits, it also covered religious institutions."

Granted, McCarthy makes some current candidates look like wimps and granted, further, that the law had to be written to encompass all tax-exempt non-profits in order to pass Constitutional muster. Still, as you correctly observed, it was aimed at "red-baiting McCarthyite organizations." When government can gather a majority of legislators to "aim" a law at speech--even detestable speech--that it does not like, it starts down a slippery slope. In the end, the First Amendment applied beautifully by Edward R. Murrow was probably the better constitutional route to take.