COLUMBIA, S.C. –The Palmetto Family Council is urging South Carolina pastors to openly defy a federal law that prohibits them from being engaged in political campaigns. Churches that do so could lose their tax-exempt status.
Erik Corcoran, with the Palmetto Family Council, says the law was written in the 1950s, sponsored by then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson because two non-profit groups were campaigning against him.
“People don’t realize the Johnson amendment was totally an effort by Sen. Johnson to get these two non-profit organizations who were accusing him of being Communist off his back. Had nothing to do with churches,” Corcoran says. “In fact, years after the amendment passed he said, his aides said he had no idea that it would even affect the churches. He was just thinking about those two specific non-profits that were created to stymie him in his re-election.”
He says Palmetto Family wants pastors to talk about the election or specific candidates, if they feel led to. “If you think about it, 200-plus years in America and how pastors did freely speak from the pulpit about candidates and against candidates, because they felt the Lord told them to. And I think a lot of times churches are scared of losing their tax-exempt status when there’s never been one time where it was taken away from a church,” he says.
There are efforts to repeal the Johnson amendment, but there is opposition to getting rid of it. Opponents of repeal say doing so would give churches too much power, because they would be able to give a lot of tax-exempt money to candidates and campaigns. And political donors might direct money to non-profits because it would be tax deductible, and the non-profits would then give the money to campaigns.