Religious groups urge Congress to keep limit on church political activity

Religious groups urge Congress to keep limit on church political activity
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Nearly 100 religious groups on Tuesday urged Congress to preserve the "Johnson Amendment," which bars churches and other tax-exempt nonprofits from endorsing political candidates.

"Current law serves as a valuable safeguard for the integrity of our charitable sector and campaign finance system," the groups, which include the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Hindu American Foundation, said in a letter to lawmakers.

The letter comes as Republicans are pushing to do away with the Johnson Amendment, which they argue infringes on religious leaders' First Amendment rights.

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President Trump said in February that he would "totally destroy" the measure, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin BradyMnuchin: Trump orders take aim at Dodd-Frank, tax regs Tax reform hearing appears to be delayed GOP under pressure as tax reform deadline slips MORE (R-Texas) has said that repeal of the amendment would be included in tax-reform legislation.

The religious groups said that houses of worship already can host candidate forums, and religious leaders can endorse candidates in their personal capacities.

"Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity," the groups wrote.

The letter said that most people don't want their religious institutions to issue endorsements, and that repeal of the Johnson Amendment would hurt houses of worship's integrity and independence.

"Permitting electioneering in churches would give partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures," the groups wrote. "Changing the law would also make them vulnerable to individuals and corporations who could offer large donations or a politician promising social service contracts in exchange for taking a position on a candidate." 

Groups that signed the letter represent a variety of faiths and also included the Anti-Defamation League, The Episcopal Church, the National Sikh Campaign, Interfaith Alliance and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.