Stop 'not-for-profit' politics
In the midst of all the controversy that surrounds the presidential election, it was easy to miss an interesting piece of news that deals with the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, free assembly, free press and prohibits the establishment of any state religion.
In 1954, while running for re-election to the U.S. Senate, Lyndon Johnson was attacked and denounced by several religious organizations based on their opposition to his beliefs. Johnson then had language inserted into the U.S. Tax Code specifically pertaining to non-profit organizations. His amendment stated that a non-profit organization "does not participate in or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." While this may be seen as a back-handed measure to punish political opponents, Johnson was doing us all a great favor by re-affirming the principles set down in the Constitution.
This issue has been revived recently by a group of pastors who are opposed to Johnson's measure. They argue that the government has no right to tell them what they can or cannot say from the pulpit. Any attempt to do so, they claim, would be tantamount to an infringement on their free speech as a result of their personal convictions. While it is not hard to feel sympathy for an individual who was told by the government, ‘You can't say that', that is not the issue at hand.
The issue that is truly being dealt with here is non-profit governance. A non-profit organization is one that qualifies for certain tax exemptions, most notably income tax and allowing donations to be tax-deductible. What this amounts to is a subsidy for that organization paid for by all other taxpayers. In order to qualify for this privilege, one must subject themselves to certain responsibilities.
When several dozen pastors speak out openly in favor of one political candidate from the pulpit, they have abused the trust given to them. Walter Jones, a Republican Representative from North Carolina, has introduced H.R. 2275 in the House. H.R. 2275 would repeal the Johnson amendment of 1954 from the I.R.S. tax code. It is currently under consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee.
This measure should be vociferously opposed by everyone who supports separation of church and state and accepts the Constitution. If a church, or its pastor, wishes to campaign for a particular political candidate, that is their right. However, they should not expect us to pay for them to do so.
Alexander Draine is a Rutgers College senior majoring in economics. His column, "Draine on Society," runs on alternate Tuesdays.