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  • Stephanie wrote a new post, Question of the Week- 7/27/2016 4 years ago

    The Johnson Amendment is the law of the land prohibiting churches from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, and it also keeps other tax-exempt nonprofits (such as the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the […]

    • I was aware of the restriction on religious organizations from broadcasting their political agendas but I didn’t know that this also extended out to nonprofit organizations too. At this point, I can’t think it’s worth it to this foundation to have the right to promote a political agenda but then have to pay a whopping tax. I could be wrong about this of course. I have no idea how much the taxes would be (I’d probably be badly shocked.) and I don’t know how much value there would be in this foundation having the ability to make a strong political statement.

      I would be interested to know if our religious folk, especially the mega church fundamentalists are aware of the other side of this deal. Sure, they want to engage in a frothing at the mouth political game but do they know that they are tax exempt at the price of keeping their noses out of secular politics? How many of them even understand this?

      When they are made aware of this, will they also come to believe that the permission to make political endorsements would not be worth the financial liability of paying out millions in taxes?

      I really think it’s time someone explained this to them in a very public way. Of course I’ll be thrilled if they start carrying their weight around here by paying millions in taxes. Then they can have all the Trump parties their little hearts desire. And for the price of several million dollars a year they can rant and rave about the evils of abortion and what a bunch of sluts these nonbelievers really are. I don’t care what they think as long as their coffers are slowly draining away. Truth be told, I already know that they are stepping over the political line based on the ballot question we had here in Massachusetts at the last election on the topic of death with dignity. I didn’t even know it would be on the ballot until a church going catholic friend came to me and said that her priest was instructing the whole congregation to get out there and vote against it. That’s how I learned it would be on our ballot.

      However, of course I don’t want the progressive tax exempt foundations to be penalized in any way.
      Quandary. o_O

    • The Johnson Amendment prevents the government from subsidizing political speech. Repealing the law would lead to potentially more church-state “entanglement”.

    • Why organize?

      Why do we form groups, why does the human inclination to social organization express itself in the ‘inner circles’ we make? Is our social skill set always the right tool for addressing the problems we see?

      While I don’t pretend to know the answers, churches (and other group behaviours) are clearly expressions of a seemingly inherent part of our human nature.

      We can, at least partly, assume one reason: Groups have advantages over loners. Teamwork is a survival mechanism we share with many other species.

      Groups within groups allow us to put pressure on our tribal leaders – to minimize the potential damage from their over-confidence. Groups are a channel for introducing ideas for change, and for promoting alternative plans, rules and strategies.

      When you have a hammer, every screw looks like a nail. Groups are so good at promoting compromise within, in order to achieve promotion of an idea as a unified social force, that we tend to look for them whenever we’re dissatisfied with current social structures and leaders. We look for the hammer.

      But is forming, joining, or promoting a group actually the best tool for the job – is it always the best way to promote social change? Compromise is often subtle, sometimes overt and frequently costly. Yet we all do it.

      The evidence we have suggests that all organized religions, some much less than others, are run as for-profit businesses. Setting that aside, all groups that say they are non-profit groups have the above in common. Yes, including the RDFRS.

      Do you think preachers and non-profits should be allowed to explicitly endorse [political] candidates?

      All groups, almost by definition, have a political agenda. But should we allow them free rein, or hold them on a tight rein?

      Democracy is about each citizen – individually – applying their own understanding, moral code and judgement to the questions of the day. Secret ballots allow each citizen the opportunity to review their group associations and to undermine the groups of which they are members.

      Undermining your group may seem bizarre, but all groups exist through compromise. Most groups have bundles of, sometimes contradictory, political aims. Most of the time, for most of us, our membership of a group is provisional because we have to accept that the group wants some things we want, and some things we don’t want.

      Where do we see groups undermined by their members? When we see the results of polls on moral rules. Despite the fact that many groups promote anti-homosexual and anti-women aims, and some of them have been doing it for millennia, we see that the people as individuals, and as a majority, empathise with these groups.

      This suggests that we, the people, like groups because they help to give us a political voice – but we also don’t like groups because they frequently insist on a compromise too far.

      Of course, as regular visitors to this Site are aware, some groups also coerce. Intimidation, promises and promotion are all common in groups. Unfortunately, and I’m open to ideas, I don’t see a simple way to separate out those groups that use pressure tactics on their members. One person’s oppression is another person’s persuasion.

      The questionable status of some groups (for profit or not?), their assuredly political ambitions, their existence based on compromise, their over-zealous nature evidenced in their members individual and contrary positions, their use of unconscionable tactics … all these things, and probably more, suggest that groups are best given as small a role as possible in politics.

      It is tempting to speculate that if we gave groups the freedom to directly promote political candidates they would shoot themselves in the foot. For example: A megachurch promoting a bigot would send the wrong signal and many members would undermine their church by either not voting or voting for someone else.

      This mode of thinking ignores the skills inherent in groups – cohesion, propaganda, cherry-picking evidence, faith-based beliefs and so on … Some memberships are held in place by these tactics, even without more obvious coercion, and we should keep that in mind.

      While we like to think that the RDFRS membership is unaffected by these group behaviours, we’re not immune either. Neither can we promise that our group will not suffer schism or evolve to be quite different in the future.

      In essence then the simple answer is no, non-profits should not be allowed to explicitly endorse political candidates.

      This raises the question of the special status of religions within the non-profit arena, and their obvious flouting of the rules.

      As Douglas Adams pointed out:

      “Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!'”

      Religions promote this idea with great energy.

      Are we jealous of these special needs groups? Of course we are. Even so, the very existence of their special needs tells us that our ideas are stronger. Take heart.

      The undermining of the notion that some ideas require special needs support should be something we do every day. The road to ensuring that this includes organized religions not promoting political candidates begins with transparency.

      Do you live near a church? Do you have a mobile ‘phone? Then if you have suspicions it’s time to praise the Lord, and pass on the ammunition.

      Don’t forget to go all the way down the ballot – those School Boards are important too you know.

      Peace.

    • Paul replied 4 years ago

      The Johnson amendment was a good idea at the time, when religion was on the uptake, and started to form a political force. By granting them tax-exempt status, the amendment told them to shut up.
      Nice idea, and it worked for a while.
      Reality of today? All 350 members of congress claim to be religious, and every president claims to be religious as well.
      An atheist candidate has no chance of becoming president. Thanks Bernie, for trying, although it wasn’t the atheism that knocked you out (At least, that’s a first!)
      Religion is big business, and should be taxed accordingly. Endorsing candidates from the pulpit is everyday business, so removing the amendment doesn’t change anything today, unless the IRS REALLY uses it’s powers and bleeds a few organisations dry.
      Notion:
      The Founding Fathers knew all too well the historical horrors of European theocracy and wanted to be sure it could never happen here.

    • Tax exempt organizations should not have a political voice. There is, and should be, a cost to speaking in an official manner about political issues. When corporations get involved with politics it’s difficult to deny the right since they pay taxes. If religions want voice in politics as well, they should discard their 501(3)c status and register as what they really are – a social club. The charities they run could be registered non-profit and be separate. Pouring money into the charity side would, like it does for businesses, limit their tax liability.

      The legality of the problem, however, is overshadowed by the idea of using the pulpit as a political advertising platform.

    • My first inclination is to loathe this sort of half-assed measure. We all know where the preponderance of support lay within any organization we belong to. Without such understanding, Dan for example, would be at a loss to find candidates for his feminist of the year award.

      –//–

      BTW This site is nearly unusable on my Android device.

    • Sean

      Dan’s award is for Darling of the feminists. Your mistake is easily forgiven. 😉

    • D’oh -embarrassed- I said it with an ironic voice in my head though, honestly. 🙂

    • As an evangelical Christian, I do not want churches to tell me who to vote for because the next step is for politicians to tell me what to believe.

    • david.graf.589

      I think that is a statement that any religious person or atheist or anyone in between could respect and appreciate. I support your Constitutional right to believe what you want to believe.

    • david.graf.589 #9
      Jul 27, 2016 at 6:24 pm

      As an evangelical Christian, I do not want churches to tell me who to vote for because the next step is for politicians to tell me what to believe.

      That is indeed an even handed approach which avoids the theocratic tribalism which is evident in countries where one religion has come to dominate politics to the detriment of others.
      There are numerous examples of the sorts of situation which the founding fathers of USA recognised and sought to avoid. – Various Eastern, African, and Arab states, dominated by Sharia, or Franco’s Spain dominated by the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

    • Hi David [#9],

      Thank you for a timely reminder.

      Preaching is indeed a two-sided coin.

      Do Evangelicals really buy the Trump message on, as he claims, religious freedom?

      On the surface, freeing religions to preach ‘Vote for Candidate Y’ may seem attractive. BUT … and you’ll notice it’s a big but … such a politician would not only be given the power, they would be given the idea that they have just been handed the democratic remit … to choose exactly the preachments that apply.

      In short: Trump just made a vote for the GOP in 2016 a vote for a theocracy.

      The problem for the vast majority of religious Americans, and even the vast majority of Americans who call themselves Christian, and I absolutely guarantee this, is that the theocracy chosen will not be wholly aligned to their beliefs.

      It will, if the powers behind the GOP throne do it without error, be a theocracy that aligns with a significant minority of Christians.

      I’m ready to boost my pension plan by cashing it in and betting the farm on certain elements in the media pushing the part of that propaganda that says “significant”. The kicker, of course, is the part that says “minority”.

      I guess that means … just how much are you prepared to compromise, knowing what you know?

      But hey, you’re the one who has to live with that. 😳

      Peace.

    • nils replied 4 years ago

      i have recently come across this website and found it very interesting.

      these differing premises come with great responsibitliy.

      God?

      Nature?

      i have appreciated listening to someone who is ernest in his search for the truth.

      I have yet to see any evidence, not just of god, but the conviction of those with gods words in their mouths, to fulfil the responsibility their conviction in unevidenced faith demands.

      Scientists seem to have come a long way in a little time. religion is still resting on very withered laurels. Mind they did come up with the pope-mobile.

      Come on religion make some effort. This is important stuff. You should know, its your quite inhumanely wealthy and profitable business.

      truth comes with responsibility.

      man up religion.

    • When the world has problems Science finds answers, therefore I consider that politicians That can dictate that a Scientific point of view is not to be acknowledged or even spoken about close, to the present limitations of pandering to the religious, vote seeking politicians that suppress sciences endeavor to progress intellect itself.

      I know this is a brief answer but I think I made my point

    • The Johnson Amendment is s false token of political equanimity. It limits the average citizen from having any power or influence. It does nothing for the real challenge this country (and the world) faces in regards to freedom- the unacknowledged hegemony wielded by amoral, profit-driven corporate entities over the economy, research and development, the military, the government and politics. I am not worried about the rights of people to speak, assemble and influence the course of events,(regardless how unintelligible their positions) but rather the superior rights of mindless, amoral corporations to do whatever they please regardless of the consequences to the planet and it’s inhabitants. If we look at Obama’s pre-election rhetoric compared to his incumbency, it should be obvious that the faces we see in leadership have little control over events. The real threat to our freedom and ability to thrive as a species is the corporatocracy that controls what gets funded, who gets elected and what laws get passed. What we need is a Johnson & Johnson Amendment!

    • Follow up to 15- The dichotomy of who does and doesn’t pay taxes is almost a non-sequitur to the concept of freedom and political rights. If we simplify that argument it becomes apparent that it doesn’t solve anything. Who has more ability to pay taxes? Religion or non-profits? Should we make the system favor one or the other just because they can or do pay more taxes? What if Churches started paying taxes? Would that make their positions anymore palatable or reasonable? The playing field should be level with all players being identified and acknowledged as such. Now the game is rigged and the putative players are irrelevant. Most big corporations pay very small percentage of taxes or zero. And where do they get the money to pay those taxes anyway?-their customers, both religious and atheist. A focus needs to by put on Corporate rights vs. Human rights. Under the current system Humans lose and Corporations win. Until this is fixed neither churches nor non-profits stand much of chance of leading or changing anything. If Donald or Hillary get elected it will not change the sociopolitical outcomes in any significant way. They will simply preside over a government that kneels before it’s master-Global Corporations. Obama promised to make his administration the most transparent in history. He has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any administration, ever. So much for Presidential control. The enemy of real progress and freedom is secrecy and blind greed, not differences of opinion.

    • nils #13
      Jul 28, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      Scientists seem to have come a long way in a little time. religion is still resting on very withered laurels. Mind they did come up with the pope-mobile.

      Ah! But the pope mobile is merely a hybrid between a hearse and a museum glass display cabinet! The function is not very different either!

      Of course the actual working parts of the vehicle were designed by scientists and engineers!

    • As a state school employee I cannot go around teaching that one political party is better than the others for example. If churches want to endorse candidates that’s fine by me just don’t expect tax dollars. In fact other than explicit and secular charity work they do (no god talk) they should not get any tax breaks.

    • Hi fadeordraw [#19],

      So there should be an income tax differential twitch for-profit and non-profit; but all should pay taxes.

      Jesus Christ agreed, all should pay taxes:

      Matthew 22

      16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.”

      17 “Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?”

      18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?”

      19 “Shew me the tribute money.” And they brought unto him a penny.

      20 And he saith unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”

      21 They say unto him, “Caesar’s”. Then saith he unto them, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

      There is no ambiguity here – unlike many parts of the Bible – the Christ says clearly that his followers must pay taxes.

      At first sight St. Paul appears to simply repeat this message:

      Romans 1

      1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

      2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

      3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

      4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

      5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

      6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

      7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

      8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

      The Rulers of the Earth are also God’s ministers … ? Something is bothering me … American Revolution, divine right of kings … no, can’t quite rememeber … but to Christians the message is obvious: Pay taxes.

      There is a major difference: The Christ does not say ‘Obey the rulers’, but St. Paul says that. The Christ makes a clear distinction between giving up those earthly things which the earthly rulers demand – but give your life to God: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

      St. Paul’s is the voice of an Established Church – entwined in the machinations of earthly, state, power. The Christ’s message is clear: Paying taxes is not the same as paying tribute to a Ruler. St. Paul, on the other hand, summarises [having declared earthly rulers to be divinely empowered and to be the instruments of God]: “Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.”

      Those taxes should be based upon net income.

      I’m only a small businessman, not an expert: My accounts list Gross Income and Net Income – Gross, an old word for Total and Net, net of tax (or: after taxes are deducted)? I’m easily confused.

      The USA classification of a non-exempt category is, I should think, currently an international outlier.

      Sadly not. Most countries have some kind of tax break for religions – and tax exemption is the easiest way to avoid political spats with the religious.

      And it’s hard to imagine the policing in force to prevent non-profit folk from political recommendations with their flock.

      We seem to be stacking up a pile of problems that all lead back to a lack of political will to grasp the nettle.

      So the idea of a tax measure imposing a freedom of speech restriction doesn’t jive with my notion of free speech …

      I agree that the Johnson Amendment is less than optimal. What we have here is a clash of ideals. On the one hand we should all be free to say what we like, when we like. People calling themselves Pastor or Reverend do not suddenly lose their free speech rights by doing so. On the other hand, we have the principle of separation of church and state.

      Regarding elections, and electioneering: Are they part of the state? The state is the actual making of, and application of, laws. On the other hand it would seem that during elections we are selecting the makers of, and appliers of, the laws. There’s an obvious connection – but is it one that makes elections a part of the state? My answer is yes – it’s clearly the point (in a democracy) where civil society, as the state polity, selects the society’s leaders of state … but I can see how an argument could be made for another interpretation.

      Taking my answer as read, for the moment, the promotion of a candidate for state leadership by a church is therefore a clear violation of the separation of church and state. In my Comment #3 I explore my observations of just how this works in real life.

      However, fadeordraw, your comment has made me re-think my position.

      Even if everything I said about how groups organise and promote their ideas is true – is that reason enough to suspend the free expression rights of some groups?

      Furthermore: Do we not have the Human Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association? [For anyone who doesn’t know the answer is yes; this is Article 20 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights].

      I gave an answer to these questions in my Comment #3: “Groups within groups allow us to put pressure on our tribal leaders – to minimize the potential damage from their over-confidence. Groups are a channel for introducing ideas for change, and for promoting alternative plans, rules and strategies.”

      On the one hand we have the US Government making a rule (the Johnson Amendment) that is not policed. On the other hand we have a social contract: Churches agree not to violate the separation of church and state in exchange for tax free status – and all charities are thrown into the same mix because … actually there is no clear reason for this. The whole mess is based on the idea that a church is automatically a charity – but they’re clearly not (with the possible exception of supporting the unemployable as clergy).

      It would appear, the tax-free exempt legislation is at issue, rather than the questionably-related free-speech corollary.

      It seems to me that the evidence says: The Johnson Amendment is a social contract between the state and churches where the state has traded tax exemption for churches’ in exchange for their agreement that the 1st Amendment establishment clause trumps the 1st Amendment free exercise clause during election season.

      However, this contract is broken – frequently.

      It therefore makes sense to review this deal.

      The only problem might be that the Johnson Amendment also includes other charities, but I foresee no particular difficulty. We merely need to exclude all charities that describe themselves as religious. We might, at a later date, need to specify what is meant by a religion in order to maintain tax exemption for true charities.

      The more I think about it the more I think that churches actively promoting political candidates, and paying taxes, is a good thing in the long run. Ultimately, they will spend a lot of money supporting politicians, help to support society at large through their taxes far more efficiently than they do now … and fail. Because democracy is no respecter of God’s will.

      The ball is in the churches’ court. Continue to break the rules, and resist policing, and the rules will change.

      Peace.

    • It seems simple enough: religions can’t help but become involved in politics. So, ditch tax-exempt status across the board, and free them from their conflict-of-interest by not offering the temptation of tax-exemption.

      Non-profits will continue to make no profit, and therefore pay no tax — or have I misunderstood what can be taxed?

      RDF, for instance, can happily take sides in political debate, without it costing anything extra. It can be officially anti-Trump, for instance. And anti any politician who impedes the goals of RDF, as it should.

    • Anyway wasn’t it the Reps who played the evangelical card in the days of Ronald, and got them taking sides?

      Before that, weren’t churches a lot less inclined to mess with politics in the USA?

    • I don’t think this question warrants a voluminous reply. The answer is yes, of course, if you support the freedom of speech. Is it not as simple as that?

      Do non-profits and preachers have an ability to control minds I don’t know about? The public can make their own minds up, they do not require Government legislation to defend them against persuasion tatics, or slogans which may sway their vote.

      Lets give the voting public some credit.

    • Stuart #25
      Aug 3, 2016 at 3:13 pm

      I don’t think this question warrants a voluminous reply.
      The answer is yes, of course, if you support the freedom of speech.
      Is it not as simple as that?

      No! That would be an unthinking simplistic answer!

      Do non-profits and preachers have an ability to control minds I don’t know about?

      You may not be aware of flocks of followers, uncritically following their preachers’ words regardless of the truth or accuracy of the words, but the extensive denials of science, and the assorted inculcated irrational beliefs, in various religious groups, demonstrates this!

      The public can make their own minds up, they do not require Government legislation to defend them against persuasion tatics, or slogans which may sway their vote.

      Now where have I heard that argument from “faith” before?
      Ah! debate the (pseudo-)controversy!
      Let the public make up their own minds AFTER they have been spoon-fed one-sided opinions from people they have been indoctrinated to trust!

    • I THINK PREACHERS AND NON PROFITS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SUPPORT SPECIFIC POLITICAL PARTY OR CANDIDATE **

      REASON :

      There will be people who actually blindly follows specific party or leaders. Thats a sad truth. For them it doesn’t matter the pros and cons of the specific party or candidate in that specific area or field. They might simply follow them. When preachers or non profits supports a specific party I think there will be more people who will support them simply because their priest support them.
      I know this because I am from India and here all kinds of religious organisations supports all kinds of political parties and I have seen many many many people who are beyond reasoning, simply follow these religious groups and whoever they support. Thats not a good thing. I have no idea how it will work in a comparatively less religious places like UK.

      Even though non profits are mostly for helping and supporting each other and are FACT people, we are so outnumbered right now. A direct influence in politics right now may encourage our opposites to crush growing intellectual seedlings before even seeing its first light. So I think lets wait, meanwhile reach more people and show them facts and fun of science. Until then, its better non of us religious and non religious ones should take part in politics from the front row.
      Since its not wise trying to argue with a leech the difference between integration and differentiation

    • Not being an American I don’t really understand the Johnston Amendment except to say how can you censor someone’s inner mind and prevent them from influencing political decisions -to me te idea is absurd and as an examle what was Senator Crux about during his camaign. Even in Britain politics is not free from riligious influences but they don’t seem to cause as much disquiet as they do in your land. Iwould argue that the reason why religion is such a potent force in America is it it is aland of immigrants with no set national identity and people aquire a semblance of identity through their religious beliefs. Unless you can find come other unifying principle for the national idenity I fear religion will always be a major fator in giving peolple an identity. If immigration were to be cured and the peole there became more settled in their ideas and found a common empathy then maybe religion would begin to take a back seat in American affairs. We don’t have this problem in Britain so much because it is a settled population but if immigration here gets out of control and new arrivals find they don’t identify with the current national identity it may result in a resurgence of religious belief not only amongst new arrivals but indigineous folk also. Of course what I written may be a load of tosh but it may be a starting point for discussionb