When he was a Senator, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson worried about his prospects for reelection and pushed a bill through Congress in 1954 banning non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing any political candidate, party or platform. This infringement on free speech has existed since then, but has recently drawn the ire of religious conservatives. The bill, for nearly half a century, has wrongly restricted the impact that non-profits can have on national and local political discourse.

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has championed the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (HR 2357), which seeks to modify IRS Code 501(c)(3) so as to grant “houses of worship” the right to endorse candidates for political office. Clearly, Jones is not taking up the cause of free speech, he is simply trying to strengthen the Church”s already substantial influence over American politics.

Jones” bill is a great idea in theory. Non-profits many of which are social advocacy groups should have the right to push a political agenda. But the language of HR 2357 clearly indicates that the real goal of this bill is to enfranchise religious institutions instead of non-profits in general. It is noteworthy to mention that non-profit organizations (excluding religious ones) tend to have by their very nature a liberal bent. It seems that Jones wants to give the largely conservative religious institutions the right to politicize while keeping liberal institutions with a gag in their mouths.

HR 2357 asks to strike language out of the 1986 IRS Code that does not allow tax-exempt organizations to “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” However, Jones is seeking to insert “except in the case of an organization described in section 508(c)(1)(A) (relating to churches).”

The whole clause should be scrapped. Every non-profit organization, including churches and other religious entities, as well as social advocacy groups, should have the right to advocate its political will. If Jones wishes for others to see this bill as anything more than a sneaky political maneuver, he has to realize that freedom of speech is the issue, not religion.

HR 2357 needs to be modified to extend the right to speech to all non-profit organizations. Johnson was in error to have pushed for this bill in the first place Jones” modified version is not an improvement.

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