Although critics have labeled the Johnson Amendment unconstitutional, the 1954 amendment to the tax code has survived a legal challenge.
In 1999, a district court upheld the Johnson Amendment in response to a lawsuit by Church at Pierce Creek of Conklin, New York, also known as Branch Ministries, Inc.
"The church's full-page advertisements appeared in USA Today and The Washington Times on Oct. 30, 1992, four days before the election, with boldface type stating, 'Christian Beware,'" reported The New York Times in 1999.
"The advertisements accused Mr. Clinton, as Governor of Arkansas, of having supported 'abortion on demand,' the 'homosexual life style' and the distribution of condoms to teen-agers by public schools."
Known as Branch Ministries Inc. vs. Charles O. Rossotti, the case went before U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman of the District of Columbia.
"In the circumstances presented here — where a tax-exempt church bought an advertisement that stated its opposition to a particular candidate for public office, attributed the advertisement to the Church and solicited tax-deductible contributions for the advertisement — the IRS was justified in revoking the tax-exempt status of the Church," wrote Friedman.
"Plaintiffs were offered a choice: they could engage in partisan political activity and forfeit their Section 501(c)(3) status or they could refrain from partisan political activity and retain their Section 501(c)(3) status. That choice is unconnected to plaintiffs' ability to freely exercise their religion. Plaintiffs therefore have not demonstrated that the IRS substantially burdened their free exercise of religion."