For generations, synagogues and other houses of worship have been places where great moral issues are addressed. Religious leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. used their pulpits to address the moral and political issues of the day, just as religious leaders today have a right and responsibility to speak truth to power. At the same time, federal tax law is clear: houses of worship, like other 501(c)(3) organizations, can speak about issues but cannot legally engage in partisan politicking and retain their tax-exempt status.
In fact, there are many ways that houses of worship can engage around public issues, including advocating on legislation and supporting policy ballot initiatives, hosting get out the vote initiatives and candidate forums. The only things tax-exempt houses of worship may not do are endorse or oppose candidates or use their tax-exempt donations to contribute to partisan campaigns.
Using the prophetic voice to speak truth to power is a core characteristic of houses of worship, and is enhanced, not hindered by the Johnson Amendment. And, in an ever more polarizing political climate, it is important that houses of worship remain spaces where people can come together in faith across so many other lines of difference. We must maintain this uniqueness, integrity and independence of houses of worship by opposing efforts that would undermine or do away with this key legal protection.
This network of laws and principles about the role of religion in public life and the functioning of our democracy enhance religious freedom through church-state separation, and vice-versa. As stated in a 1965 URJ resolution, “the principle of separation of church and state is best for both church and state and is indispensable for the preservation of that spirit of religious liberty which is a unique blessing of American democracy.”
Urge your Members of Congress to oppose any effort to weaken or repeal this key legal provision that prohibits houses of worship from engaging in partisan politics.
For More Information
For more on this issue, visit the RAC's issue page on Church-State issues. You can also contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Rachel Klein.
We have created a “Dos and Don’ts” Guide for congregations to help congregations navigate non-profit status, especially during the election season. As Reform Jews and American citizens, we have an obligation to participate in elections so as to ensure that our country's policies at the local, state and national levels reflect our commitment to social justice. Every vote counts and plays a defining role in setting policy agendas. It is our civic duty to register promptly, educate ourselves about the critical issues and vote!
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