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Senator Lankford, Congressmen Scalise, Hice, Johnson Reintroduce Free Speech Fairness Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK), House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Congressmen Jody Hice (R-GA), and 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.

“The Free Speech Fairness Act is needed to prevent government intrusion and suppression of free speech by removing a restriction on speech that has existed since 1954,” said Lankford. “The First Amendment right of free speech and right to practice any faith, or no faith, are foundational American values that must extend to everyone, whether they are a pastor, social worker, or any charity employee or volunteer. People who work for a nonprofit still have constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, and free press.”

“We need to repeal the Johnson Amendment so people of faith can freely express their views without fear of retribution by the IRS or any other Washington bureaucrat. For the past 65 years, the Johnson Amendment has unjustly barred religious leaders and other employees of 501(c)3 organizations from fully exercising their freedom of speech. Under threat of a costly IRS audit and loss of tax-exempt status, religious leaders are prohibited from voicing any political opinion,” said Scalise. “To address this misguided provision of the U.S. Tax Code, I have joined my colleagues, Congressmen Jody Hice and Mike Johnson and Senator James Lankford, in reintroducing the Free Speech Fairness Act. Our bill ensures that religious and nonprofit leaders will no longer live in fear of the consequences to exercising their First Amendment right. Our right to free speech under the First Amendment is what makes the American people the freest in the world. No one should be restricted from speaking freely about the issues that affect each and every American simply because of the job they hold.”

“For decades, the Johnson Amendment has encroached on communities of faith and limited the constitutional, inalienable rights to the free speech of our religious leaders,” said Hice. “As a pastor for more than 20 years, I witnessed firsthand the chilling effects that this IRS provision has had on our houses of worship and charitable organizations through intrusive IRS audits, steep fines, and even threats against a church’s tax-exempt status. Simply put, our First Amendment rights shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in exchange for tax-exempt status, and it’s long past time that we repeal this deeply flawed policy. I’m honored to join my colleagues in reintroducing the Free Speech Fairness Act to restore the rights of every American to express their beliefs – regardless of whether or not they’ve passed through the church doors.”

“Free speech is one of our most sacred, unalienable rights and no one should be subjected to censorship by the federal government,” said Johnson. “Yet, for more than 60 years, pastors and churches have been silenced in sharing their message. The Johnson Amendment stands in stark contrast to who we are as Americans and should be repealed immediately. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in reintroducing the Free Speech Fairness Act and look forward to unleashing the voice of the church once again.”

Background on the Free Speech Fairness Act:

  • Lankford, Scalise, and Hice first introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act during the 114th Congress.
  • The bill successfully passed the House during the 115th Congress.
  • Forty-seven organizations, including Family Research Council, National Religious Broadcasters, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, support this legislation and have urged Congress to restore these First Amendment rights.