Since 1954, the Internal Revenue Service has unfairly and indiscriminately used the Johnson Amendment – a provision in the U.S. tax code – to censor and target 501(c)(3) organizations and their leaders through the threat of investigations, costly fines, or loss of tax-exempt status. Introduced by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, the amendment was formulated behind closed doors and deprived of proper checks and balances. As a result of the Johnson Amendment, hundreds of houses of worship and nonprofits have become victims of an unconstitutional restriction on their right to free speech.
In his acceptance speech at the National Republican Convention last July, nominee and now President Trump vowed the repeal of the Johnson Amendment when he declared, “I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.” President Trump recognizes that the repeal of the Johnson Amendment isn’t about politics. It’s about making sure that the laws on the books reflect our Constitutional rights.
This portion of the tax code, which punishes communities of faith as a means of political intimidation, is a clear suppression of free speech. Simply put, ministers and the clergy shouldn’t live under a shadow of fear when voicing their beliefs.
Working as a Member of Congress and champion of religious liberty, I am following through on my commitments. With the introduction of the Free Speech Fairness Act, we will amend the tax code to reinstate the rights that organizations inherently have when communicating an opinion. Through our bill, free speech and religious liberty – often denied to churches and other nonprofits – would be restored.
Specifically, our legislation would ensure that all 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, nonprofits, and charities, are legally able to make comments about a political candidate or political issues within the scope of their normal activities. The bill also requires that any expenditure related to these activities are de minimis – that is, not outside the usual expenses of the organization – to ensure that the organization’s primary function remains charitable or religious in nature.
Far too often, the federal government – particularly the IRS – has leveraged its power over Americans by policing our speech, and by extension, our right to worship. The Free Speech Fairness Act is one more step towards curbing that abuse by eliminating the chains of bondage that have been placed on our churches and nonprofits.
By removing the biased and oppressive Johnson Amendment, we will ensure that no American is ever again silenced. The Free Speech Fairness Act will help restore our voice and will secure the basic principle to have and express our opinions, a right fundamental to who we are as Americans. I am proud to be a part of this effort to ensure that the American people – no matter their job – are treated equally and fairly when it comes to the freedom of speech.
The Honorable Jody Hice represents Georgia’s 10th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee