Tag Archive: In God We Trust

The Johnson Amendment: I Agree With Donald Trump

501c3

In the 1950s, thanks to men such as there’s-a-red-under-every-bed Catholic Congressman Joseph McCarthy, American Christianity’s God found a home in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the back of our paper money. Under God was added to the Pledge (1954) and In God we Trust was added to American paper currency (1957). In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill into law that stated the national motto was In God we Trust. These blatantly unconstitutional acts are still with us today. In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed an amendment to U.S. tax code that would forbid churches and other non-profit, tax exempt institutions (501(c)(3)) from endorsing and campaigning for political candidates. This amendment is currently part of the tax code.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, 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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain taxes.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

The Internal Revenue Service provides resources to exempt organizations and the public to help them understand the prohibition. As part of its examination program, the IRS also monitors whether organizations are complying with the prohibition.

Churches and their pastors KNOW that U.S. law forbids directly endorsing or campaigning for political candidates. They also know that they are free to ignore the law because the IRS has shown that it has no appetite for going after churches and pastors who spend time and money whoring for political candidates. Evangelicals, sensing that the Obama Administration will not revoke their tax exemption, now want Congress to overturn the Johnson Amendment, giving churches and pastors the right to keep their blanket tax exemption AND endorse, work for, and financially support political candidates.

In recent days, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has said that, if elected, he would work to repeal the Johnson Amendment. I agree. I hope Congress will remove this amendment from the U.S. Tax Code. I also hope they will strip from the tax code the clergy housing allowance and any/all preferences churches and religious institutions currently receive. It is time for poor, helpless churches and their pastors to be cast out into the world to live by the same rules and laws that govern other businesses. Yes, other businesses, because churches are, above all else, profit-driven businesses. The charitable, public service parts of what churches do is minuscule. Churches exist, for the most part, to serve their customers — members and prospective members. If churches wish to remain tax-exempt, then the bulk of their income should be spent on charitable works. As it stands now, churches spend most of their money on buildings, salaries, benefits, and programs that only serve congregants.

If, as Donald Trump and many Evangelicals/Catholics want, the Johnson Amendment is overturned, churches and religious institutions should then be required to file business income tax returns and govern themselves according to current business law. This means churches and religious groups should also be required to pay sales tax, real estate tax, and every other tax businesses pay. Imagine the trillions of dollars that will make its way into local, state, and federal government coffers.

Churches and pastors should be careful about what they wish for. If churches are required to play by the same rules as businesses, I suspect that there would be a lot of church bankruptcies and mergers. Good news, to be sure, for those of us who are tired of churches receiving unconstitutional favoritism and financial support via tax exemptions, tuition payments, reduced postage charges, and other tax benefits that are only available to churches and religious institutions. But, bad news for those few churches and pastors who really do care about the social welfare of others.

Notes

Churches have always been permitted to support ballot initiatives and issues.

Pastors, outside of their official capacity, are free to endorse candidates. Unfortunately, this line has become blurred, and an increasing number of pastors and parachurch leaders now think they can endorse candidates without restriction. Realizing that they are breaking the law, these so-called men of God often add to their pronouncements, I say this as an individual, not in my official capacity as a pastor. And then they smile and wink.

Churches, by the way, do not have to file for 501(c)(3) tax status. They are, by default, considered tax exempt. Churches do not have to file any documents in order to be exempt.

Evangelicals and Their Duplicitous Argument for the Generic God

thomas jefferson

Evangelicals are quite specific when it comes to God. There is ONE God, their God, the triune God revealed in the Christian Bible. All other gods are false gods. While it is increasingly common for Evangelicals to embrace Catholics as fellow Christians, it was not that long ago that most Evangelical churches and pastors believed the Roman Catholic church was the harlot of Revelation 17 and worshipers of a false God.  While it is encouraging to see some Evangelicals consider the thought that Catholics and Mormons might worship the same God as they do, the overwhelmingly majority of Evangelicals believe their God is the one, true God. No other gods need apply.

What I find interesting is how duplicitous Evangelicals can be when it comes to the mentioning of God in the founding documents of the United States, on our money, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. Evangelicals, knowing that the constitution forbids the establishment of a state church, argue before congress and the courts that the founding fathers spoke of a generic god, that the God mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance is no god in particular.  And since the documents, laws, and the like use the word god in a generic sense, they do not violate the establishment clause or run afoul of the separation of church and state.

Yet, they turn right around, once they are away from the halls of congress and the courthouse, and say the use of the word God in our founding documents is in reference to the Christian God. They preach sermons and write books about America being a Christian nation. Evangelical pastors remind parishioners that the Pledge of Allegiance’s God is the Christian God. And to some degree they are right.

Did the founding fathers have a generic god in mind when they spoke and wrote of God? The simple answer is No. Now, they most certainly did not have the modern Evangelical God in mind when they used the word, but they didn’t have Islam, Judaism, or any of the other religions of the world in mind either. Their God was the Christian God. Some of them were orthodox Christians, others were deists, but no one, as far as I know, meant anything other than the Christian God.

Why is it that Evangelicals run from this fact when they speak before congress or the courts? Why do they argue that these mentions of God are generic and not a reference to any specific god? Again, the answer is quite simple. They know admitting that these documents use the word God is a specific sense weakens their argument for their continued use. If the Pledge of Allegiance or In God We Trust on our money reference a non-specific God, then it makes it harder for atheists and secularists to argue that these things are unconstitutional (harder, not impossible)

It’s time for Evangelicals to start telling the truth when they testify before congress or appear before state and federal courts. It’s time they admit that the God of our founding documents and much of America’s history is the Christian God. Once they do this, we can then have a legislative and legal discussion about In God We Trust on our money, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the countless other places the use of the word God implies the Christian God.

As the citizens of the United States increasingly embrace secularism and pluralism, perhaps it is time to throw the Christian God into the dust bin of human history. Whatever we might have been in 1620 or 1776, we are not that now and our government should reflect this. Certainly, Christians are free to be legislators and judges, but their religious beliefs should not play a part when they act on behalf of the people of the United States. It’s time we return to the pre-1954 Pledge of Allegiance:

pledge of allegiance before 1954

Pre-1954 Card with the Pledge of Allegiance

Note

A separate issue is whether there should be ANY pledge at all? Personally, I am against any pledge that requires me to swear fidelity to the state.

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