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Hawley Lies about 'Johnson Amendment'

Hawley Lies about 'Johnson Amendment'
Missouri Republican Senate hopeful Josh Hawley recently sparked headlines for urging a repeal of the political campaign activity ban (that he and other critics call "the Johnson Amendment"). As I noted previously, Churchnet (where I serve as Associate Director) responded to Hawley's remarks by explaining why the political campaign activity ban is good. After that, Hawley offered some remarks about the ban that are clearly inaccurate. And I believe he knowingly lied.

Hawley is a smart man. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, he wrote a book published by Yale University Press, clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and taught at the University of Missouri Law School before becoming Missouri's Attorney General. As I said, he is a smart man. He knows the law. So, when he says inaccurate things about the political campaign activity ban I don't believe it comes from ignorance. The other option is intentional dishonesty. It's one thing to have a different opinion about the political campaign activity ban, but it's another thing to represent the facts.

So, let's look at his false claims. On Aug. 31, Hawley appeared on "Washington Watch," a radio program of the Family Research Council (which is the same organization that hosted the event at which Hawley made his initial comments about repealing the political campaign activity ban). The FRC's president, Tony Perkins, is a conservative political activist who also opposes the political campaign activity ban. Here are three ways Hawley misrepresented the political campaign activity ban (beyond using the inaccurate label of "the Johnson Amendment").

First, Hawley wrongly claimed the purpose of the political campaign activity ban was to silence pastors and churches. Here's what he said: "The 'Johnson Amendment' is an attempt to silence pastors and silence churches for preaching and living their conviction."

However, the fact is that pastors and churches were not the target of the legislation. And churches are not singled out or treated unfairly. Instead they are subjected to the exact same rules as any other similarly-incorporated 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The same Republican House, Republican Senate, and Republican President (Dwight D. Eisenhower) that created the IRS rule in 1954 also put "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and expanded the housing tax allowance for clergy. That was not an anti-Christian group of politicians!

Second, Hawley wrongly claimed the political campaign activity ban is the government telling churches what they can or cannot preach. Here's what he said: "Government cannot tell churches how to run their church, and they cannot tell them what to preach. So, if anything, the 'Johnson Amendment' blatantly violates the true constitutional right to separation that the First Amendment gives to our churches and our pastors."

However, the fact is that pastors can still preach whatever they want. They can even endorse politicians from the pulpit. They just cannot do it with a tax exemption. But here's the thing: tax exemption is not a constitutional right, but a privilege the government gives. No one makes a church accept tax exemption. If a church wants to endorse candidates, they have the right to incorporate under different tax rules.

Even worse, Perkins and Hawley exaggerate what the political campaign activity ban actually prevents by suggesting it stops pastors from addressing issues when all it actually stops is engaging in partisan politics. Perkins inaccurately described the goal of those defending the political campaign activity ban as believing "pastors shouldn't be free to speak to the issues." Hawley responded, "That’s exactly right" (but it's not).

Later, Perkins argued that the two of them were fighting for the right of pastors to "address the great issues of our day that, again, have been deemed political - for instance, the issue of abortion or the redefinition of marriage." Hawley, again, did not correct Perkins, but instead suggested that preaching about those issues Perkins mentioned were what the political campaign activity ban is about. Hawley said: "You know no pastor and no church should be asked to abandon their most deeply-held beliefs, should to be asked to abandon biblical truth in order to stay open and in order to be able to preach. ... And it's under threat today. And if you don't think it's under threat, just look at the reaction to those of us are standing up and saying, 'no, the IRS should not be discriminating against churches.'"

 Again, the political campaign activity ban does not prevent pastors from addressing issues (even political ones). It merely prevents 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in partisan politics like urging votes for or against a particular candidate. 

Third, Hawley wrongly claims most pastors and most American agree with his opposition to the political campaign activity ban. Here's what he said: "Pastors know and churches know - I mean, believers know - that our religious liberties are on the line, and they want to have their constitutional right - the right that the First Amendment gives - that every church and every pastor has the right to speak freely, to preach their convictions freely. ... Most Americans don't think that pastors and churches ought to be silenced, that houses of worship ought to be told to stay quiet. They don't think that. They say, 'no, let them preach what they believe; let them live out what they believe.' ... The media, they just don't get it. They're totally out of touch and they don't understand where the heart of this country really is."

However, polling is clear and consistent on the issue. Polls have found most Americans (more than 70%) support the political campaign activity ban. Other polls show nearly 90 percent of pastors and more than two-thirds of all Americans do not believe pastors should endorse candidates in churches. Hawley and Perkins are in the minority opinion but inaccurately depict themselves as representing most Christians. Hawley and Perkins are out of touch with most Americans.

Interesting, Perkins noted that the Missouri Baptist Convention spoke up to defend Hawley but ignored the fact that Churchnet (also known as the Baptist General Convention of Missouri) said otherwise even though the only articles referring to the MBC actually first talk about Churchnet. By ignoring voices he doesn't like (but clearly saw), Perkins attempts to frame it as if clergy are supporting Hawley even though those voices are just a minority opinion. 

Perhaps Perkins ignores Christians with different opinions so he can falsely claim the political campaign activity ban's supporters are nonbelievers. He said: "What I have found to be the case is that those that are most concerned about this in terms of they're afraid of what churches may be saying - or what pastors may be saying, I should say - are ones who actually rarely if ever go to church. They really don't know how this actually operates." Hawley did not correct the record as Perkins violated the ninth commandment by bearing false witness against myself and many other Christians. 

As I said at the beginning: Hawley is a smart man. He knows the law. That means he must be intentionally lying. Even worse, he's lying while trying to prove he's fighting for Christian values. That's shameful. 

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