Since 1954, federal law has prohibited tax-exempt organizations from participating in partisan political activities. Recently, President Trump promised to “totally destroy” this law, having lamented during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that it “threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.”
As Catherine Rampell noted in her Feb. 3 op-ed, “Here comes Christian sharia,” this is part of Mr. Trump’s effort to “blur the line between church and state.” But that line is not so easily blurred. Mr. Trump fails to understand that the government cannot change the law to allow churches to engage in political activities while continuing to prohibit other tax-exempt organizations from doing the same. This would favor religious organizations and violate the establishment clause of the Constitution.
Will the Trump administration pursue this unconstitutional policy, or will it abandon it, recognizing that if churches are to benefit from tax-exempt status while engaging in political activities, so too must all tax-exempt groups, including the ACLU Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund and Planned Parenthood?
Abby Raphael, Arlington
The Johnson Amendment, which provides that a tax-exempt institution loses that exemption if it promotes political candidates, does not forbid an institution from having a political action committee or a super PAC, but only sensibly states that the institution will not promote candidates through tax-exempt funds.
If the amendment were rescinded, these institutions’ support for political activities would not only be tax-exempt but would constitute “dark money” because, unlike with PACs, donors need not be identified.
Henry Geller, Washington