Americans United received a rare double dose of good news in late March after Congress passed a large spending bill that contained no new voucher plans and no language undermining or repealing a federal law that prevents houses of worship from intervening in partisan elections.
Known as the "omnibus," the bill will fund the operations of the federal government through September. It's an enormous legislative package that carries a hefty price tag of $1.3 trillion.
Bills this big tend to become the legislative equivalent of a Christmas tree--lots of things get thrown on them. Indeed, in the days leading up to the bill's passage, Americans United was hearing scuttlebutt that the measure would likely include language undermining or repealing entirely the "no-politicking" law, known as the Johnson Amendment.
The provision, passed in 1954 after efforts by then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), makes it clear that all nonprofit, tax-exempt groups that hold 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Code may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates. The blanket ban affects houses of worship, nonprofit educational institutions, museums, public policy groups and a host of other organizations.
Although polls show that the American people overwhelmingly support the Johnson Amendment, Religious Right groups have been trying to get rid of it for years. In 2016, they gained a powerful ally when Donald Trump was elected president. While on the campaign trail, Trump vowed to overturn the law, a promise he has repeated since taking office.
During the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, Trump vowed to "totally destroy" the Johnson Amendment. He later issued an executive order that he claimed did undermine the amendment but that in fact did little. (As a federal law, the Johnson Amendment can't be nullified by an executive order.)
Some members of Congress picked up Trump's crusade and tried to insert language undermining the Johnson Amendment into last year's sprawling tax bill. They succeeded in getting it into the House version of the legislation, leading Americans United and its allies to spring into action. AU's efforts were successful, and the Senate didn't include the anti-Johnson Amendment language in its version of the bill.
Rumors continued to circulate that Johnson Amendment foes might try again and use the omnibus as their vehicle. But in the end, it didn't pan out.
The omnibus is also free of new voucher plans. AU and groups...