He has declared that his administration would “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, thereby enabling tax-exempt churches to endorse or oppose political candidates and to engage in lobbying activities. Courts have held that the Johnson Amendment does not violate the First Amendment.
The Johnson Amendment changed the tax code in 1954 to prevent 501(c)(3) entities—that is, tax-exempt charities, including churches—“from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” In Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, 461 U.S. 540, 545 (1983), the Johnson Amendment was challenged on First Amendment grounds. In upholding the amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that “… the prohibition against substantial lobbying by § 501(c)(3) organizations imposes an ‘unconstitutional condition’ on the receipt of tax-deductible contributions… ,” finding that “Congress has merely refused to pay for the lobbying out of public monies.”
Given the Court’s reasoning, repeal of the Johnson Amendment would raise First Amendment question regarding the principle of separation of church and state.