17 August 2016
Trump vs. the Johnson Amendment
The Johnson Amendment is a rule that sounds like it ought to have been part of American law from the beginning, but it only dates back to 1954. That it took effect then, in the era when the government required American currency to carry the motto "In God We Trust." I guess it just shows what a master legislator Lyndon B. Johnson was. Supposedly introduced by him in order to undercut his rivals in an upcoming Texas election, his Amendment to the tax code is the rule that allows churches to be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they engage in electioneering for specific political candidates. The Republican party platform and presidential candidate Donald Trump are committed to repealing it. That's pretty ironic. Trump is often perceived as an heir to the Know-Nothing tradition of nativism in American politics, but if there was anything the original Know-Nothings of the 1850s dreaded, it was the idea of clergymen telling congregations how to vote from the pulpit. Their distrust of Catholic immigrants was based on the idea that, once naturalized, they'd vote as their priests instructed them to, rather than think for themselves. Now the Republican party wants clergy, presumably of all sects and denominations, to do that very thing in the name of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. According to this analysis, they also want churches to do more fundraising for the GOP and right-wing causes, or else they want church funds to front for right-wing fundraising. This is ironic even without dragging history into it. These are strange things for Republicans to ask for, and a strange time to ask, when Americans, and presumably Trump's Republicans in particular, presumably are more wary than ever about religion intervening in politics and religion's role in making law. Obviously, though, I've forgotten that that wariness applies only to bad religions, while the good ones should have no limit on their self-evidently benevolent influence on American life. The bad religion is bad because it treats this world as its kingdom, while the good religion says its kingdom is not of this world. But if that's so, then the good religion has nothing to say about how this world or any of its countries are governed, does it? Yet according to research cited in this editorial, lots of clergy are getting away with electioneering already, most likely because the government is afraid of stirring a hornet's nest by cracking down. Which is funny, because these Christians aren't even threatening violence -- yet.