Central Conference of American Rabbis Affirms Commitment to Johnson Amendment

 Friday, February 3, 2017

On Thursday, at the National Prayer Breakfast, where the Central Conference of American Rabbis was represented by its President, Rabbi Denise Eger, President Donald Trump vowed to "destroy" the Johnson Amendment, designed by former President Lyndon B. Johnson when he was a Senator and adopted by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. The Central Conference of American Rabbis urges Congress to reject any attempt to weaken, let alone repeal, the Johnson Amendment, which protects America's cherished First Amendment rights and protections by prohibiting non-profit entities such as houses of worship from supporting or opposing candidates for office.

Reform rabbis regularly raise the voice of Torah, individually and collectively, speaking out for justice and righteousness in the great tradition of our ancient prophets. The Johnson Amendment does not restrict the ability of any religious institution or other non-profit to speak out on important issues. Indeed, Catholic priests and Reform rabbis alike regularly advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, while taking opposite sides in the debates over reproductive liberty and LGBTQ equality, to name just a few examples. None of us, though, should wish to turn our pulpits into platforms for individual candidates, which would besmirch the holiness of our missions.

Worse, if churches, synagogues, and other non-profit organizations can support or oppose candidates, "dark money" would likely multiply even more than it did in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in the infamous Citizens United case, as wealthy individuals and corporations could secretly funnel money to candidate support at the expense of the American taxpayer. Donations to houses of worship and other 501c3 non-profits are and must remain private and tax-deductible, protecting free exercise of religion.

Reform rabbis recognize that religious institutions of various political persuasions have on occasion intentionally or inadvertently violated the Johnson Amendment. We call for vigorous enforcement of the law rather than its abolition to maintain the separation of church and state as envisioned by our founders.  

Rabbi Denise L. Eger                         Rabbi Steven A. Fox
President                                          Chief Executive

Central Conference of American Rabbis