Congress passes tax reform that critics warn could politicize houses of worship

The House of Representatives passed major tax reform legislation along party lines, which critics said effectively repeals an amendment designed to keep houses of worship nonpartisan.

The vote Thursday was 227-205, with 13 House Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose the bill titled the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” whose passing represents the advancement of a key agenda item for US President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, CNN reported.

The bill constitutes a repeal of the Johnson Amendment, according to the Anti-Defamation League. For decades, the ADL said, that amendment “has protected the integrity of houses of worship and other non-profit organizations by prohibiting them from endorsing or opposing political candidates” if they didn’t want to risk losing their tax-exempt status.

ADL’s national head Jonathan Greenblatt warned that “undermining the Johnson Amendment’s critical protections will politicize the pews and foster inappropriate religious entanglement with politics.” ADL “is deeply troubled and disappointed” by the development, a statement by the group read.

Noting that the Senate’s current version of the tax bill does not contain a similar repeal, ADL added that the Senate “must be resolute on this issue by taking a stand to keep divisive politics out of our houses of worship.”

While the bill’s passage in the GOP-controlled House was largely drama free, the prospects for the measure are more unclear in the Senate where Republicans hold a slim two-seat majority, CNN noted.

The House Republican tax plan, released Nov. 2 by Rep. Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, and other GOP members, condenses the current seven tax brackets to three, nearly doubles the standard deduction, and caps the amount taxpayers can write off in state taxes at $10,000.

The Senate Republican tax plan, released Nov. 8, eliminates the state and local tax deduction and keeps the current seven brackets, but lowers rates.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote its version of the tax reform bill out of committee on Friday, according to The New York Times, with a full Senate vote expected after Thanksgiving.

Dozens of Jewish nonprofits, charitable organizations and religious institutions last week urged Congress to refrain from passing legislation that compromises the Johnson Amendment.

A letter signed by 55 Jewish groups was sent last week to the chairman and ranking member of the US House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.

“Charitable nonprofits and houses of worship can only be successful if we maintain public trust in our integrity and commitment to mission,” the letter reads. “Politicizing them for the benefit of politicians and partisan donors would destroy that trust. Every charitable dollar spent on partisan campaign politics is one less dollar spent on the public good.”

In addition to ADL, groups representing all streams of Judaism except the Orthodox community signed the letter, as did Jewish community relations councils and the Jewish federations of several cities. The Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs also signed the letter, as did the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.

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