WASHINGTON, D.C.—House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Congressman Jody Hice (R-Ga.), and Republican Conference Vice Chairman Mike Johnson (R-La.) today announced the reintroduction of the Free Speech Fairness Act, legislation designed to repeal the Johnson Amendment’s censorship of 501(c)3 employees, including religious leaders, and restore their First Amendment rights.
“For more than 60 years, the IRS’s discriminatory ‘Johnson Amendment’ has unjustly prohibited religious leaders and other employees of 501(c)3 organizations from fully exercising their rights to speak freely,” said Whip Scalise. “To address this discriminatory abuse of the U.S. Tax Code, I have joined my colleagues, Congressmen Jody Hice and Mike Johnson in reintroducing the Free Speech Fairness Act. Our bill aims to repeal the Johnson Amendment to ensure that religious and nonprofit leaders will no longer face IRS bullying and threats just for exercising their right to free speech under the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is what makes America the freest nation in the world. No one should be restricted from speaking freely about the issues that affect each and every American family simply because of the job they hold or the religious views they share. We need to repeal the Johnson Amendment so people of faith can freely express their views without fear of retribution or intimidation by the IRS or any other Washington bureaucrat.”
“The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to free speech and free practice of religion. It is the very bedrock of our republic; the federal government has no authority to infringe upon those rights simply because one has entered a house of worship,” said Congressman Hice. “For decades, however, an unconstitutional provision in the U.S. Tax Code called the Johnson Amendment has silenced religious leaders from speaking openly from the pulpit. As a pastor before coming to Washington, I was personally harassed by the IRS. My church’s tax-exempt status was threatened because I dared to preach openly on political issues important to my congregation. Our Founding Fathers left us unalienable rights to be enjoyed – and defended. I’m proud to again join my colleagues in introducing the Free Speech Fairness Act to repeal the Johnson Amendment and fully restore Americans’ constitutional rights to express their beliefs.”
“The First Amendment does not end when a pastor stands behind a pulpit,” said Vice Chairman Johnson. “I’m proud to offer the Free Speech Fairness Act with my good friends Whip Scalise and Rep. Hice to protect the rights of clergy, churches, and other non-profits from the threat of losing tax-exempt status as they live out their most basic American rights. I hope our Democrat colleagues will join our effort to pass this legislation and defend the freedom of speech in every venue.”
Background on the Free Speech Fairness Act:
- Twenty-two organizations, including The Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom, support this legislation and have urged Congress to restore these First Amendment rights.
- Scalise and Hice first introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act during the 114th Congress.
- The bill successfully passed the House during the 115th Congress.
Groups Supporting the Free Speech Fairness Act:
Mary Beth Waddell, J.D., Director of Federal Affairs, Family and Religious Liberty, Family Research Council
“It is great to see Whip Steve Scalise, Rep. Jody Hice and Rep. Mike Johnson re-introduce the Free Speech Fairness Act. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are at the core of what makes this nation so great. This bill is needed now more than ever, as our nation is extremely divided and the voice of the church is desperately needed in this moment. For too long, the Johnson Amendment has been used as an unconstitutional weapon to silence churches, charities, and their leaders. The Free Speech Fairness Act restores the full constitutional rights of freedom of speech to pastors and other leaders of religious non-profits.”
Emilie Kao, Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation
“Americans of all faiths should be able to think, speak, and act according to their religious beliefs. They do not lose their Constitutional freedoms by working for a religious organization, but because of the Johnson Amendment, many fear their speech will be targeted by the IRS. The Free Speech Fairness Act is needed to protect all nonprofits from being targeted based on political, educational or religious activities.”
Ryan Tucker, Senior Counsel and Director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries, Alliance Defending Freedom
“Churches should decide what they preach from the pulpit and communicate in the public square—without edits, audits, or other interference from the IRS. By removing the threat of an IRS investigation and fines, based simply on what a pastor might say from the pulpit, this bill brings the law in line with the First Amendment. It fixes a restriction enacted in 1954 that was never intended to affect churches but has been used to intimidate and silence them ever since. The government has no business interfering with the internal affairs of churches, nor should it be able to threaten a church’s tax exemption based on a requirement that the church self-censor and surrender its constitutionally protected freedom.”
Full list of supportive outside groups:
Family Research Council, The Heritage Foundation, Heritage Action, Alliance for Defending Freedom, Concerned Women for America LAC, Faith & Freedom Coalition, WallBuilders, Lutheran Center For Religious Liberty, American Conservative Union, American Family Association, Family Policy Alliance, Priests for Life, March for Life Action, Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel, Liberty Counsel Action, American Values, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, American Center for Law and Justice, Tradition, Family, Property, Inc., Americans for Tax Reform, National Religious Broadcasters.