Protect the Johnson Amendment

Though justly celebrated for his incomparable skill at shepherding legislation through the Senate, and his hard-as-nails support for the great civil rights legislation of the 1960s (which teed-up Richard Nixon’s ruinously consequential Southern Strategy), the private Lyndon Johnson was crude, amorally opportunistic, treacherous, an enthusiastic philanderer, and very nearly as corrupt as Donald Trump.

In 1948 he won his first Senate seat in the face of myriad (probably true) vote-fraud allegations and the stout-hearted opposition of opponent-funded churches. In 1954, with another campaign looming, Johnson repaid the churches that had so uniformly opposed him with the so-called Johnson Amendment — an addition to the tax code which prohibits not-for-profits from intervening in elections by endorsing or otherwise supporting a candidate.

Aeons ago, I supported repeal of the Johnson Amendment; surely it’s an affront to the free speech protection of the First Amendment?

No, it isn’t — and the reason is that all of us, including non-believers like myself, subsidize churches. And, unlike the Red Cross or United Way, they don’t even have to make a public accounting of where their money goes.

Churches are not welcome to exact a subsidy from me by the threat of force — imprisonment, if I refuse to pay a portion of my taxes — and then use my money to campaign for such as the anti-American theocrat Roy Moore.

If we want real tax reform in connection with churches, we should demand that they pay their own way; then, they can support anybody they want.

When Chicago’s meatpackers found themselves under attack for the charges of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, they published more than a million handbills that failed to answer the charges but attacked Sinclair’s character — and arranged for them to be distributed through Chicago’s churches. The pastors were only too happy to join in attacking the most prominent man trying to protect the workers who were their congregants because they received generous donations for their trouble.

The churches gladly sold their pews in Sinclair’s day, they gladly sold their pews in Johnson’s day — and there will be no shortage of pews on offer next year if the Johnson Amendment is repealed.

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