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Senator Lankford Introduces Bill to Expand Free Speech for Houses of Worship and Nonprofits

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act (S.264), a bill that gives nonprofits and houses of worship the freedom to speak about government or electoral activity without the threat of retribution from the Internal Revenue Service. 

Specifically, the Free Speech Fairness Act addresses the shortcomings of the Johnson Amendment, which in 1954 was inserted into the Tax Code by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson. The Johnson Amendment prohibits nonprofits and churches from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as participating in, or intervening in a campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office, including a simple oral or written statement. During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump frequently expressed his desire to fix the Johnson Amendment.

“The federal government and the IRS should never have the ability to inhibit free speech,” said Lankford. “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. 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.”

This bill applies to all entities organized and operating under section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code. But this legislation would not turn nonprofits and churches into political action committees. The legislation is specifically crafted to maintain the prohibition against 501(c)(3) organizations contributing money to candidates or campaigns.

Lankford introduced the bill at a press conference today with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), sponsor of the House bill, and a group of faith leaders and nonprofit workers. Lankford is co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, which protects the right of Americans to pray and practice their faith freely, no matter what their faith is.