Secular Coalition Urges Congress to Keep Churches Out of Politics

Washington, DC -- The Secular Coalition for America released a statement today condemning the House Committee on Appropriations for voting to advance a bill that would allow churches to engage in electoral politics while maintaining their tax-exempt status. The 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill contains a provision, Section 116, that instructs the IRS to cease enforcement of the 1954 Johnson Amendment exclusively for houses of worship.

"Today members of Congress voted to gut a law which has preserved the integrity of our democracy and the secular character of our government for more than 60 years," said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. "By approving a provision that repeals the Johnson Amendment exclusively for houses of worship, lawmakers are sending the unmistakable message that their intent is to transform churches into political actors. In doing so, they have advanced one of the key and most consequential policy priorities of the religious right. Religious nonprofits are already exempt from taxes and financial disclosure laws. If the House passes this bill with Section 116 intact, churches will have a green light from Congress to use their privileged status to engage in electoral politics and funnel untold sums of dark money into our political system."

On Tuesday, the Secular Coalition for America and thirteen of its member organizations sent a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to remove Section 116 from the bill. Additionally, the Secular Coalition joined 107 nonprofits and religious groups in a letter urging the Appropriations Committee to leave the Johnson Amendment intact.

"It is no accident that this latest attack on the Johnson Amendment is hidden deep within a routine spending bill," said Decker. "If members of Congress want to turn houses of worship into the equivalent of Super PACs they should do so in the public eye, not by exploiting the appropriations process to avoid scrutiny. The Johnson Amendment is a crucial and common sense safeguard for our democracy and our nonprofits. People of all faiths and none must rally together to oppose this underhanded effort to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state."

On Thursday night during the markup session, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) introduced an amendment to strike Section 116 from the bill and preserve the Johnson Amendment. The amendment was rejected in a 28-24 vote.

"We'd like to thank Representative Wasserman Schultz and all those who voted in support of her amendment," said Decker. "What's at stake is nothing less than the integrity of our political system. This is worth fighting for and we intend to do everything we can to stop this radical assertion of religious privilege. We urge members of Congress to join us in this fight."

Contact: Casey Brescia

Communications Associate and Spokesman

[email protected], (845)-380-6201

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The Secular Coalition for America is the nation's premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition represents 18 voting member organizations.

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