The History of The Johnson Amendment of 1954
House Resolution 235
Compiled and edited by Kasey Kelly
February 4, 2005
Calvary Christian School - Mr. Garrisons Current Events Class
The First Amendment clearly states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,…."
The Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act
House Resolution 235 was designed to revise the IRS code to remove restrictions placed on churches and non-profit organizations in 1954 by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson. Prior to 1954, churches and non-profit organizations had no such restrictions on their freedom of speech or their right to speak out in favor or against political issues or candidates.
The history of Johnson’s IRS gag order is instructive. It began with what some historians believe to be a fraudulent election of Johnson to the Senate in 1948. It has been maintained by both conservative and liberal historians that Lyndon Johnson’s election to the Senate in 1948 was won by massive voter fraud. Known as “Landslide Lyndon,” this aspiring politician was “elected” by only 87 votes. His challenger, Coke Stevenson, challenged his election and presented credible evidence that hundreds of votes for Johnson had been faked. Johnson, however, was successful in blocking Stevenson’s effort by the clever use of “cooperative” court injunctions.
In 1954, Johnson was facing re-election to the Senate and was being aggressively opposed by two non-profit anti-Communist groups that were attacking Johnson’s liberal agenda. In retaliation, Johnson inserted language into the IRS code that prohibited non-profits, including churches, from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office. In effect, Senator Johnson used the power of the go-along Congress and the IRS to silence his opposition. Unfortunately, it worked. Some in Johnson’s staff claimed that Johnson never intended to go after churches, only the two “nonprofits” in Texas. Nevertheless, his sly amendment to the tax code affected every church in America, and it is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
The legislation proposed by Rep. Jones in the 109th Congress is designed to overturn Johnson’s vindictive gag order that now penalizes churches, churches that dare speak out against government policies and politicians that the churches may deem to be immoral or bad for America. There is no reason for this gag order to remain in effect, but Congress apparently thinks it must perpetuate bad public policy simply because it exists.
Organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, People For The American Way, and The American Civil Liberties Union continue to claim that this Johnson gag order must be upheld to protect “church/state separation.” This is irrational and fails to take into account the entire history of religious freedom in the United States.
Throughout our nation’s history-both before and after the American Revolution-our nation’s pastors freely spoke out on the political and moral issues of the day. It was their duty and their right under the Constitution to preach against immorality and corruption in the political and the moral realm. Historian James H. Hutson, writing in Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, notes: “Preachers seemed to vie with their brethren in other colonies in arousing their congregations against George III.” And, as Hutson discovered, the House of Representatives sponsored church services in its chambers for nearly 100 years. These services only ended when convenient transportation was available to take Members of Congress home for the weekend.
It is interesting to observe that our Founding Fathers and our first elected officials didn’t have any notion of “church/state separation,” so vehemently endorsed by Americans United and other modernist groups. Our Founders valued religion and wrote the First Amendment to protect the free expression of religious beliefs-and the freedom to speak out on the moral issues-including those involving politics and politicians.
The disservice that Lyndon Johnson did to religious freedom has yet to be undone, but in the current session of Congress, H.R. 235 must be passed-to undo Johnson’s vengeful action against his political opponents. We need to finally exorcise our public policies of the sad legacy of Landslide Lyndon.
Cong. Rec. 9604 (1954). Edward McGlynn Gaffney, Jr., The Unconstitutionality of Tax Regulation of Activities of Religious Organizations Relating to Politics
On July 2, 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson was recognized from the Senate floor and the following colloquy occurred:
Mr. JOHNSON of Texas: Mr. President, I have an amendment at the desk, which I should like to have stated.
The PRESIDING OFFICER: The Secretary will state the amendment.
The CHIEF CLERK: On page 117 of the House bill, in section 501(c)(3), it is proposed to strike out “individuals, and” and insert “individual,” and strike out “influence legislation.” And insert “influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”
Mr. JOHNSON of Texas: Mr. President, this amendment seeks to extend the provisions of section 501 of the House bill, denying tax-exempt status to not only those people who influence legislation but also to those who intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for any public office. I have discussed the matter with the chairman of the committee, the minority ranking member of the committee, and several other members of the committee, and I understand that the amendment is acceptable to them. I hope the chairman will take it to conference, and that it will be included in the final bill which Congress passes.
Although not subject to debate and cryptic in its origins, following that short colloquy, the amendment, unchanged in its verbiage, eventually became part of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. Subsequently, it proved to have a profound effect on how thousands of tax-exempt organizations-including churches-dealt with issues relating to political campaigns.
Why Should we be upset about the Johnson Amendment?
Because it is illegal, and unconstitutional. It is just the beginning of Government intrusion into Churches.
What can we do?
Matthew 5:13-16: The Christians' Commission.
13. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and be trodden under foot of men.
14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
What can hold back corruption in our Government and in the world? Salt! We are commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world; to be those who have an impact upon the world, in holding back corruption and proclaiming the truth of God.
Footnotes: 1. Robert A. Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson Means of Ascent 387 (1990). 2. Id. at 317 3. Id. at 316-17 4. traditionalvalues.org