House Republicans added a provision on a sweeping GOP spending bill that would give churches and other nonprofit organizations the First Amendment right to endorse political candidates while maintaining their tax-free status.
In short, the GOP bill seeks to deny the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) money to enforce the over 60-year-old law that prohibits mixing politics with the pulpit.
The Hill reports that the House Appropriations subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government approved the spending measure on Thursday, which funds the Treasury Department, Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies.
The provision states:
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Internal Revenue Service to make a determination that a church, an integrated auxiliary of a church, or a convention or association of churches is not exempt from taxation for participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office unless.”
Republicans and religious leaders have long argued that the tax code provision, known as the Johnson Amendment that was signed into law in 1954, violated their right to free speech, and often resulted in confusion about what churches were allowed to say and do.
“I believe that churches have a right of free speech and an opportunity to talk about positions and issues that are relevant to their faith,” said Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio.
However, some Democrats claim the measure comes too close to mixing church and state while others fear that churches could use their tax-free status to funnel money to political candidates.
The House Appropriations Committee issued a release earlier this week stating the provision was intended to “address underperformance and previous poor management and decision-making at the IRS.”
Out of all the federal agencies, the IRS has been impacted the most by spending cuts outlined in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which amounted to a $149 million budget cut for the IRS.
The IRS restriction comes more than a month after Trump signed an executive order easing enforcement of a tax code provision that prohibits churches and religious organizations from backing or opposing political candidates and parties.
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