Nonprofits May Soon Join Brands in Taking Political Stands
[Target Marketing editor's note: Brands are taking political stands — from ads during the Super Bowl to the Uber CEO leaving the presidential advisory board following a rider protest of #deleteUber. It's hard to miss. But churches and other nonprofits hadn't yet joined, because of fear of losing funding. Now, whether these marketers want to or not, they may have to make a choice.]
As you may have heard by now, President Donald J. Trump announced he wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment. During the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Feb. 2, Trump called the amendment an impingement on Americans’ right to worship according to their beliefs (although, if we may point out, he is also trying to pass an executive order against immigration targeted at those of Muslim faith, but that's another story).
If one thing is clear, it’s that Trump is targeting the Johnson Amendment — or that he’s trying to further validate that he deserves this presidency. But really, this all looks like a well-thought out plot for him to secure his presidential seat in 2020. Either way, it’s a thing, and Trump is seemingly on the move.
During the breakfast, Trump made the following proclamation to a room full of religious leaders:
“Freedom of religion is a sacred right, but it is also a right under threat all around us. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”
But is it that easy? The Johnson Amendment has been around since 1954, so its removal will have to involve an act from Congress.
The Johnson Amendment
If this is your first time hearing about the Johnson Amendment or if you’re slightly confused on what it exactly is, here is some information:
In 1954, Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Johnson Amendment to prohibit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations (religious, charitable, scientific and educational) from participating in any political candidate’s campaign, which essentially means nonprofit organizations — including churches — are not allowed to endorse or oppose any political candidate.
Here’s the formal definition according to IRS.gov:
“All section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.”
But this raises a question. How strict is the IRS on enforcing this law? Apparently … not that strict. NPR reported that the Alliance Defending Freedom has been organizing “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a movement that has been encouraging pastors to give political sermons in defiance of the law since 2008. In addition, The Washington Post reported that more than 2,000 Christian clergies have challenged this law (with only one audited by the IRS), but none received any repercussions for their actions.
How This Will Affect Nonprofits?
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, shall we? And seriously, let’s face it — Trump’s decisions thus far have affected our sector one way or another. Just think of recent events — the order to defund organizations that support abortion and the order against immigration, which has been blocked by the federal appeals court (for now). [Target Marketing editor's note: Travel and hospitality marketers are impacted by the ban, too.]