Sunday, May 07, 2017

Freedom of Speech Restored

President Trump greeting clergy members in the Rose Garden on May 4th (JTA
I never liked the Johnson Amendment. Which restricts the rights of religious organizations to express their preference of one political candidate over the other. That amendment strips away the tax exempt status of any religious organization that endorses a specific political candidate for office. 

I never fully understood the motivation or the rationale behind it. I see that as a violation of the first the first amendment right to free speech. But that has been the law since 1954. Until now. Sort of. From JTA
A full repeal of the Johnson Amendment can happen only through an act of Congress. But Trump’s order directs the Internal Revenue Service not to prosecute violations of the Johnson Amendment by houses of worship, effectively ensuring that they won’t face repercussions from the law. 
I hope Congress will act. The idea that a religious organization will turn into ‘partisan political outfits’ as Reform Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of their Religious Action Center noted - is quite a cynical accusation. Most legitimate religious organizations are about the values they promote. They should not be penalized for endorsing the candidate that most closely promotes those values. That there are some religious organizations that are partisan should not penalize those that are not.

President Trump’s order actually enhances both aspects of the first amendment: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Those of us that love the liberty this nation is all about ought to be applauding this decision. Not criticizing it. Regardless of how they might otherwise feel about his position on other matters.   

That said, I would urge religious organization to continue the policy of not endorsing candidates. I don’t see an upside to that. What they should instead do is continue to speak out about the values in which they believe. Let the voter decide which candidate’s position most closely represents those values.

On the other hand endorsing one candidate over the other does have a downside. It will not serve them well if their candidate loses. Politicians have long memories.

Best to stay neutral during an election. Let the voters see for themselves and make their own decisions. If they support the values the organization preaches, they will make the right choice without any kind of official endorsement.

I am nevertheless happy that the chains have been lifted. No longer will a religious organization have to fear losing its tax exempt status if one of their executives slips up and publicly supports a specific candidate. That is a good thing for religious organizations and a good thing for an America that wants to live up to its creed of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. And for this President Trump deserves our gratitude.