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NeoNotes — the Johnson amendment

Let me point out that tax exempt status is at best a "devil's trade." In exchange for the tax deduction, the organizations (and sometimes the officers) lose their political voice and the IRS gets itemized lists of what was donated and who donated it.

There's also the small bit that if there are tax deductions, then by definition taxes are too high.

However, Religion cannot be allowed the coercive power of government. Government cannot be allowed the moral justification of religion.



The 1st Amendment doesn't deal with subsets. The incredibly ironic bit is the history of churches in American politics, particularly the abolitionist movement.

I didn't say it was a complete list, I said it was an itemized list. It is enough to find "known associates" though.

Tax deductions are evidence that taxes are too high. It's also evidence of diverting capital, taking it away from unapproved activities and moving it towards approved activities. There's more, but it involves a long examination of progressive tax systems and it won't add anything but noise to our conversation.



Abraham Keteltas, Samuel West, Jonathan Mayhew, Peter Muhlenberg, and Samuel Cooper were just some of the colonial era ministers. In England for a while, the American Revolution was called the Presbyterian Revolution because so many Presbyterian pastors were involved.

But the abolitionist movement and the American Civil War was when things really got going. Look at names like John Todd, Joshua Leavitt, Benjamin Bradford, Luther Lee, and Samuel Salisbury. Without these men and their churches, the abolitionist movement would never have blossomed. Christians aren't perfect and I am certainly a critic. But it took British and American Christians to end the slave trade, they deserve credit for that.

The 1950s-1960s civil rights movement was heavily rooted in churches, especially in the American south.

As I said, the tax exempt status is a "devil's trade" intended in large part to silence churches.



I provided examples which at the very least would have violated the propaganda restrictions of the Johnson amendment if it had been in effect then. Yet those are a valued part of American history and important benchmarks in religious freedom.

A little further examination would have shown that American churches and synagogues have traditionally called politicos out on bad ideas and bad behavior.



It's not about "prophesy of the pulpit." It's about moral authority. Ideas like liberty, revolution, and slavery were talked about during worship. In those days more than anything else including the press, worship is where those ideas were set out in detail by men who made their living communicating well and clearly. I admit it's a part of history that is often overlooked, but it exists none the less.

Take a closer look. The Johnson amendment covers both endorsement and anti-endorsement, intervening in political campaigns is prohibited. It also limits lobbying, propaganda, and other political activity.

Pagans of all people know what a bad idea it is when a politico wraps themselves in the flag and waves holy writ as justification.

BTW, I have to give you points for that phrase "prophesy of the pulpit." It's poetic if not exactly accurate in this case.



You're right, that part of the law is seldom enforced. I was waiting for someone to bring that up.

So here is my next question. If the law as it exists is so potentially prone to abuse even as it is not enforced, why does the Johnson amendment exist?

My theory is that it was one of Johnson's infamous deals. In the early 1950s, the modern civil rights movement was just getting started, but the split was already there. It's a little inaccurate, but I call the two sides the MLK side and the Malcolm X side. Later the Malcolm X side was dominated by the Black Panthers, but that part of the story isn't necessary for our discussion here.

The MLK side wanted to work within the system making sure that existing law was enforced. The Malcolm X side relied on direct confrontation to create radical change and separate from the US if necessary. There was rivalry between the two sides, and at the time no one was sure which side would dominate. Johnson saw the potential need for what today we would call the nuclear option. As long as everything proceeded peacefully, the government would never need to use the stick. Meanwhile, everything was nicely registered and reported to the government, "just in case."

It wasn't the first time the IRS was used to monitor Americans and it wouldn't be the last.



You're right. I should have said existing Constitutional law, that was my mistake.

That wasn't the only operational difference, but it certainly was one of the most important. Bryan Burrough points out in Days of Rage that some "blacks" were disappointed as more moved north and they didn't instantly get more of what they felt had been denied them.

Existing state and local law in the south supported segregation, most Federal law did not. It varied in other states, not so much in the West but heavy in union states. When Truman reversed Wilson's segregation of the armed forces, the writing was on the wall.



Under what part of the 1st Amendment is Congress granted the power to regulate free speech?

Under what part of the 1st Amendment is Congress granted the power to regulate religion?

Yet the Johnson amendment does both.

Which tax argument? The fact that deductions mean that taxes are too high? Or that government uses a progressive tax code to encourage some behaviors and discourage others?

Can you show that either argument is BS?



Actually it does.

The perception in America is that you are not a "real" church unless you have tax exempt certification. Just like a few years back when conservative groups were having problems getting 503 certification, most people don't want to give money unless they know that the IRS is not going to audit them. The easy path is to do what the government tells you to do. That is not necessarily the right thing. Once a group has the certification, they are bound by the regulations if they wish to keep the majority of their donors. Those regulations are subject to change at any time, and have gotten more restrictive since the Johnson amendment was passed.

Every dollar that the government collects in taxes reduces individual purchasing power. Regardless of what some experts will tell you, the economy is driven by the individual buying goods and services and not by government regulation. More money, more purchases (or savings). Less money, more credit, less purchases and less savings.

Even if you think that only the "rich" pay higher taxes, that means less money for things like jobs, equipment, and expansion. That means less economic growth.

The second order effects of special taxes can be even worse. A few decades ago, Congress put out a luxury tax on high end planes, yachts, high end boats, and cars. All those industries took a major hit. Building and storing yachts and high end boats still haven't recovered.

It gets worse. Thanks to payroll withholding and "standard" deductions, the government effectively gives itself no-interest loans from your money. Multiply that by a hundred million or so and you get into some serious cash.

These are examples from taxes. I haven't discussed currency manipulation (inflation) or spending.



"Surely by your argument, there should be no tax exempt organizations at all, because the very existence of them proves taxes are too high."

Yes.

At the very least, no tax exempt organizations would mean fewer bureaucrats to monitor compliance and regulate.

"Government money goes back into the community and absolutely does stimulate economic growth."

It does that by displacing private investment. Private money wants a return on investment, which means maintaining facilities and periodic upgrades. Except for corporatism, companies stay in business by making their products better, cheaper, and more available.

"The rich actually mostly sock money away…"

Um, no they don't. There isn't a money vault or a stuffed mattress, smart people put their money to work. Some buy stocks, some buy bonds, some invest in companies. Unless the money earns a higher yield than the rate of inflation and the tax rate, it's worth less.

"…and pay LOWER taxes than the rest of us…"

According to the National Taxpayer Union Foundation, in 2014 the top ten percent of income earners paid 70.88% of the income tax. The top fifty percent of income earners paid 97.25% of the income tax.

Spending is not the same as taxing. Government at all levels has done a rotten job of maintaining facilities, much less upgrading them. Private ownership does wonders, as things like the Empire State Building show.

Government usually puts money aside for infrastructure and then diverts the money into more "essential" things. It's one of the oldest tricks in government accounting. Then more money is "needed."

What's more, government is a lousy judge of where to spend and what to spend it on. Just as one example, less than a handful of VA hospitals are worth it, but we keep tossing more and more money at the problem.

NeoNotes are the selected comments that I made on other boards, in email, or in response to articles where I could not respond directly.

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