News alert

Archdiocese Announces COVID-19 Relief Program

One-time grants of up to $2,500 will be made available to those who are facing extreme financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.

Today, a diverse group of 99 religious and denominational organizations are urging Congress to maintain current law that protects houses of worship and other religious nonprofit organizations from political pressure and additional dangers that come with endorsing and opposing candidates.

The coalition is delivering a letter to House and Senate leaders April 4, reminding them that the current tax code safeguards “the integrity of our charitable sector and campaign finance system.” The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America stands among a representation of faith groups united in this cause.

The letter, addressed to leaders of both parties and of the committees dealing with tax law, reminds Congress that houses of worship already can speak to issues, and leaders can endorse or oppose candidates in their personal capacity. “Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity,” the letter states.

The groups are united against any calls to repeal or change the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” which has become shorthand for a provision in the tax code that applies to all 501(c)(3) organizations. Groups that choose that most-favored tax status must refrain from endorsing, opposing or financially supporting political candidates.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America press release can be read here.

=================

April 4, 2017 

The Honorable Paul Ryan 
Speaker 
H-232 The Capitol 
Washington, D.C. 20515 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi 
House Democratic Leader 
H-204 The Capitol 
Washington, D.C. 20515 

The Honorable Kevin Brady 
Chairman 
House Ways and Means Committee 
1102 Longworth House Office Building 
Washington, D.C. 20515 

The Honorable Richard Neal 
Ranking Member 
House Ways and Means Committee 
1139E Longworth House Office Building 
Washington, D.C. 20515 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell 
Senate Majority Leader 
S-230 The Capitol 
Washington, D.C. 20510 

The Honorable Chuck Schumer 
Senate Democratic Leader 
S-221 The Capitol 
Washington, D.C. 20510 

The Honorable Orrin Hatch 
Chairman 
Senate Committee on Finance 
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building 
Washington, D.C. 20510 

The Honorable Ron Wyden 
Ranking Member 
Senate Committee on Finance 
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building 
Washington, D.C. 20510 

Dear Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Chairman Brady, Chairman Hatch, Ranking Member Neal, and Ranking Member Wyden: 

We, the 99 undersigned religious and denominational organizations strongly oppose any effort to weaken or eliminate protections that prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Current law serves as a valuable safeguard for the integrity of our charitable sector (1) and campaign finance system. Some have suggested a desire to remove this safeguard only as it applies to houses of worship and to keep all other 501(c)(3) organizations at the status quo. This path, however, is constitutionally problematic under Texas Monthly v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1 (1989). 

Religious leaders often use their pulpits to address the moral and political issues of the day. They also can, in their personal capacities and without the resources of their houses of worship,  endorse and oppose political candidates. Houses of worship can engage in public debate on any issue, host candidate forums, engage in voter registration drives, encourage people to vote, help transport people to the polls and even, with a few boundaries, lobby on specific legislation and invite candidates to speak. Tax-exempt houses of worship may not, however, endorse or oppose candidates or use their tax-exempt donations to contribute to candidates’ campaigns. Current law simply limits groups from being both a tax-exempt ministry and a partisan political entity. 

As religious organizations, we oppose any attempt to weaken the current protections offered by the 501(c)(3) campaign intervention prohibition because: 

  • People of faith do not want partisan political fights infiltrating their houses of worship. Houses of worship are spaces for members of religious communities to come together, not be  divided along political lines; faith ought to be a source of connection and community, not division and discord. Indeed, the vast majority of Americans do not want houses of worship to issue political endorsements (2). Particularly in today’s political climate, such endorsements would be highly divisive and would have a detrimental impact on civil discourse. 
  • Current law protects the integrity of houses of worship. If houses of worship endorse candidates, their prophetic voice, their ability to speak truth to power as political outsiders, is threatened. The credibility and integrity of congregations would suffer with bad decisions of candidates they endorsed. Tying America’s houses of worship to partisan activity demeans the institutions from which so many believers expect unimpeachable decency. 
  • Current law protects the independence of houses of worship. Houses of worship often speak out on issues of justice and morality and do good works within the community but may also labor to adequately fund their ministries. Permitting electioneering in churches would give partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures. 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. Even proposals that would permit an “insubstantial” standard or allow limited electioneering only if it is in furtherance of an organization’s mission would actually invite increased government intrusion, scrutiny, and oversight. 

​The charitable sector, particularly houses of worship, should not become another cog in a political machine or another loophole in campaign finance laws. We strongly urge you to oppose any efforts to repeal or weaken protections in the law for 501(c)(3) organizations, including houses of worship. 

Sincerely, 

African American Ministers in Action 

Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 

Alliance of Baptists 

American Baptist Churches USA 

American Baptist Home Mission Societies 

American Friends Service Committee 

American Jewish Committee (AJC) 

Anti-Defamation League 

Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists 

B’nai B’rith International 

Baptist Fellowship Northeast 

Baptist General Association of Virginia 

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty 

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America ~ Bautistas por la Paz 

Baptist Women in Ministry 

Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice 

California Council of Churches IMPACT 

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good 

Central Conference of American Rabbis 

Christian Life Commission 

Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church 

Churchnet, a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri 

Colorado Council of Churches 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Heartland 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Kentucky 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas 

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia 

Disciples Center for Public Witness 

Ecumenical Catholic Communion 

Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon 

The Episcopal Church 

Equal Partners in Faith 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches 

Faith Action Network- Washington State 

Faith in Public Life 

Faith Voices Arkansas 

Faithful America 

Florida Council of Churches 

Franciscan Action Network 

Friends Committee on National Legislation 

Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America 

Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. 

Hindu American Foundation 

Hispanic Baptist Convention of Texas 

Interfaith Alliance 

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) 

Islamic Networks Group 

Islamic Society of North America 

Jewish Community Relations Council, Greater Boston 

Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington 

Jewish Council for Public Affairs 

The Jewish Federations of North America 

Jewish Women International 

Kentucky Council of Churches 

Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd 

National Baptist Convention of America 

National Council of Churches 

National Council of Jewish Women 

National Sikh Campaign 

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice 

New Baptist Covenant 

North Carolina Council of Churches 

Oklahoma Conference of Churches 

Pastors for Oklahoma Kids 

Pastors for Texas Children 

Pax Christi, Montgomery County, MD chapters 

Pennsylvania Council of Churches 

Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office of Public Witness 

Progressive National Baptist Convention 

Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly 

Religions for Peace USA 

Religious Institute 

Rhode Island State Council of Churches 

Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America 

South Carolina Christian Action Council 

South Dakota Faith in Public Life 

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights 

Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 

Texas Baptists Committed 

Texas Faith Network 

Texas Impact 

Union for Reform Judaism 

Unitarian Universalist Association 

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee 

Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice 

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries 

The United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society 

Virginia Council of Churches 

Women of Reform Judaism 

Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) 

 

Cc: All Members of Congress 

 

Read letter here.

 

  1. Some have suggested a desire to remove this safeguard only as it applies to houses of worship and to keep all other 501(c)(3) organizations at the status quo. This path, however, is constitutionally problematic under Texas Monthly v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1 (1989).
  2. E.g., National Association of Evangelicals, Pastors Shouldn’t Endorse Politicians, Evangelical Leaders Survey (February 2017), https://www.nae.net/pastors-shouldnt-endorse-politicians/ (finding 89% of evangelical leaders oppose pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit); Bob Smietana, Skip the Endorsements in Church, Say Most Americans, LIFEWAY RESEARCH (Sept. 8, 2016), http://lifewayresearch.com/2016/09/08/skip-the-endorsements-in-church-say-most-americans/ (finding 79% of Americans believe it is inappropriate for a pastor to publicly endorse political candidates during a church service and 75% agreeing that churches should steer clear of endorsements); Daniel Cox, Ph.D. and Robert P. Jones, Ph.D. Majority of Americans Oppose Transgender Bathroom Restrictions, Public Religion Research Institute (March 10, 2017), http://www.prri.org/research/lgbt-transgender-bathroom-discrimination-religious-liberty/ (finding 71% of Americans and all major religious groups in the county oppose allowing churches to endorse political candidates while retaining their tax-exempt status).