More than four thousand religious leaders have signed a letter asking Congress to preserve, in its current form, the Johnson Amendment, a law that effectively bars faith-based organizations from making political statements from the pulpit, Religion News Service reports.
In the spring, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that directed the Internal Revenue Service to relax enforcement of rules barring tax-exempt churches from political activity. Announced during a National Prayer Breakfast, Trump vowed to "totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear."
The letter, which includes signatures of leaders of all faiths, was spearheaded by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. "Changing the law," the letter states, "would threaten the integrity and independence of houses of worship."
In July, the House Appropriations Committee voted to include language in a spending bill that would defund IRS efforts to enforce the amendment. The bill has not been passed by either the House or Senate. The letter to Congress further notes that the current law does not bar faith leaders from supporting or opposing political candidates in a personal capacity.
"Faith leaders are called to speak truth to power, and we cannot do so if we are merely cogs in partisan political machines," the letter states. "Particularly in today's political climate, engaging in partisan politics and issuing endorsements would be highly divisive and have a detrimental impact on congregational unity and civil discourse."