New York passes Johnson Amendment barring churches from political speech
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law that prohibits churches and other nonprofits from campaigning for or against political candidates.
Cuomo signed Senate Bill S4347 last week, creating a state-level equivalent to the current federal Johnson Amendment, which bans electioneering among nonprofits.
In a statement released last Wednesday, Cuomo said he felt the law was necessary in response to efforts by the Trump administration to weaken the Johnson Amendment.
“For too long we have listened to the Trump administration threaten to remove common sense protections prohibiting tax exempt organizations from engaging in inappropriate political activities,” Cuomo said.
“New Yorkers have a right to free and fair elections, and this law will further protect our democracy from unjustified interferences once and for all.”
Also known as Assembly Bill A623, the bill amended the state tax law to say that nonprofit organizations, religious or secular, cannot participate in “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
Ryan Tucker of the Alliance Defending Freedom took issue with Cuomo’s signing of the law, writing in a New York Daily News opinion piece last week that the state government was “cracking down on political speech.”
“In the minds of New York lawmakers, a group can only speak freely if it pays the government extra for the privilege of doing so. That type of financial coercion may pay for a payroll increase in Albany, but it will sideline the roles of both secular and religious charities,” Tucker wrote.
“Cuomo’s comments are wrong. The government can’t condition your tax-exempt status with the surrender of your First Amendment rights or any other constitutionally protected freedom.”
The Johnson Amendment was passed in 1954, and was named for then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. The measure has garnered controversy, especially in recent years, by those who believe the amendment curbs the rights of nonprofits, especially churches.
In May 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order which, among other things, called for the federal government to stop enforcing the Johnson Amendment.
"In particular, the Secretary of the Treasury shall ensure, to the extent permitted by law, that the Department of the Treasury does not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective," stated Section 2 of the executive order.
Despite the executive order and Trump saying on multiple occasions that he eliminated the amendment, it still has not been officially repealed.