"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."Note that this clause of the First Amendment applies to Congress. Just Congress.
"Congress shall make no law". That's quite possibly the clearest thing in the entire Constitution. These days we extend that through the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, so that State lawmakers can't do it either, but the point remains the same. This is a restriction on what our government can do.
It is not a restriction on what you as a citizen can do. Not even if you're a preacher. It never has been. Somewhere along the line, some people chose to twist "Congress shall make no law" into "Preachers will keep their mouths shut." And that's just wrong. It's obviously unconstitutional. Obviously. Nevertheless, Congress jumped up and wrote a law, (the Johnson Amendment to the 1954 Tax Code) and prohibited the free exercise of not just religion, but speech as well, which is also supposed to be protected by the First Amendment.
The courts, if they were doing their jobs, should look at such a law, no matter who it applies to, and say, "Oh, for fuck's sake... it's a LAW!" and strike it down while pointing at the First Amendment. Because that's what one properly does to unconstitutional laws.
So Trump has stated at a prayer breakfast that he would "destroy" the Johnson Amendment. Well, good. It's exactly what Democrats said they wanted in 2012:
That was perfectly OK, but only because it was a Democrat who said it. When a Republican says it, even when it's applied across the board to everyone equally and is to their own benefit, then it's suddenly the worst thing evah. I think people think I'm joking when I say that there isn't spit difference between the two parties. But there really isn't. They can't even remember their own positions.
The organization called "Americans United for Separation of Church and State" does remember their position, and have rung the alarm. Says their executive director Barry Lynn, "President Donald Trump and his allies in the religious right seek to turn America's houses of worship into miniature political action committees." Except that this has always been the case. The thing is, we've been very selective about how we apply it.
The fact is, the 1954 Johnson Amendment was and is unconstitutional and should have been struck down long ago. There is no justification why a charitable organization cannot voice opinions or support candidates. If you hold the First Amendment as that justification, it's just because you haven't read it. I'll give you another shot:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."See that? It's addressed to Congress. Not you.
Barry Lynn's organization is misguided.They think that shutting everyone else up will give their own words power. But if a preacher and his whole congregation wants to stand up and shout to the heavens of their moral and religious imperative to speak up on political issues and endorse candidates... well, so what? They should have the freedom to do that, as supposedly guaranteed by the the first article that enumerates what are supposed to be our rights. Should an Atheist have a right to political speech, but a Baptist be denied? The government of these United States does not "grant rights"... it is granted authority by the citizens whose rights are inviolable. Acknowledge the rights of the Baptist and everyone else, so that Jeremiah Wright can continue shouting, "God damn America!" and so that Satanist churches have the privilege to shout whatever they want. And if you don't want them using your money for that, then don't give them your money.
We don't need a law to tell us that.