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How LBJ tried to silence his critics, and ended up muzzling ministers

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 08/29/16

From The New York Times, some interesting background and analysis of the so-called Johnson Amendment, which LBJ pushed through Congress in the 1950s, and which continues to cast a long shadow over us today:

The amendment, as The Times reported in 2011, was not aimed at churches, but at “two nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet Communist.” These were the Facts Forum, funded by the Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt to produce and distribute McCarthyist books, television programs and radio shows; and the Committee for Constitutional Government, another far-right, multimedia and mass-mailing center founded by the newspaper magnate Frank Gannett.

The Johnson Amendment stated that “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” In other words, tax-deductible charitable contributions could not be used to fund election campaigns. This was considered so uncontroversial at the time that no record of what Johnson was thinking or precisely how he got this clause attached to the tax code seems to have survived. It was passed by a Republican Congress, and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Churches on all sides, liberal and conservative, proved able to skirt the provisions of the amendment easily enough, and it went largely unchallenged until 2008, when the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal and political organizing arm of right-wing Christian evangelicals, started a campaign to repeal it. The A.D.F. began an annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in which ministers were encouraged to give overtly political sermons, and then send recordings of these talks to the I.R.S.

…[The I.R.S.] is not believed to have opened any audits of churches for noncompliance under the Johnson Amendment since at least 2009, and all that ministers who send in recordings receive is a form letter thanking them for their interest. The A.D.F.’s efforts have fared little better in court, as Johnson’s typically airtight legislation did not differentiate between religious institutions or any other type of nonprofit.

“A broad change to the provision would likely cause minor-level chaos within the U.S. political system,” Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic this month. “There would no longer be any meaningful difference between charitable groups and lobbying organizations.”

Check out the rest.

Photo: Wikipedia

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