Most people think that the GOP tax plan is simply a giveaway to the rich – which of course it is. But the bill has a number of provisions in it that go far beyond simply redistributing wealth upwards.
One of those provisions is a gift to the religious right that threatens to turbocharge right-wing churches as a political force. The provision, which fulfills a promise President Trump made, removes the last restraint on church’s participation in politics, with potentially devastating effects on LGBTQ equality.
At issue is a law known as the Johnson amendment, named after Lyndon Johnson, who oversaw its passage in 1954. The law prohibits the nonprofit organizations, including churches, from participating in political campaigns under threat of losing its tax-exempt status. The law has seldom been enforced, but it has served to control some of the worst impulses of organizations, particularly churches eager to engage in culture warfare.
Needless to say, religious right leaders have been eager to see the Johnson amendment repealed. Their push has been fueled in large part over their resistance to marriage equality, which they characterize as a free speech issue. Anything that threatens to rein in the political participation of churches is, in the words of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a leader in opposing gay rights, “harassment.”
Trump threw a sop to his evangelical base in May when he signed a vague executive order in support of “religious liberty.” But the order fell far short of letting religious organizations do as they pleased without fear of repercussions.
Repealing the Johnson amendment would be a giant leap forward on that front. As flimsy as the threat of IRS review has been, nonetheless it was always a real, if slim, possibility. With that threat gone, there’s no stopping what churches – especially well-funded evangelical churches – can do.
In essence, your local mega-church could become a Super PAC, raising money from the flock and funneling it to candidates that it endorses – like candidates who oppose transgender bathrooms or other nondiscrimination protections.
Given how much emphasis the Christian right continues to place on opposing marriage equality, it’s hard to imagine a church political operation that wouldn’t be focused on peeling back the advances of the past several years.
The tax bill won’t increase prosperity in the country. Thanks to a single provision, what it is guaranteed to increase is homophobia.