Christian Lawmakers Working to Keep Free Speech, Charitable Contributions in Tax Plan
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In a victory for religious liberty advocates, the House voted to include a repeal of the Johnson Amendment in their tax cut bill that passed the House Thursday.
Congressman Jody Hice, R - Georgia, co sponsor of the Free Speech Fairness Act, tells CBN News when he was a Baptist pastor he personally faced intimidation from the IRS and it's time to "liberate churches."
"This is a major step for religious liberty," says Hice. "I have personally been the recipient of the other side of this Johnson Amendment and faced the intimidation and the fear and I know hundreds and hundreds of other pastors have as well. So it's time that we get this right and we liberate churches and other non-profit leaders to be able to speak without fear of their government."
Hice does not believe it will be a part of the current Senate bill expected to be voted on soon, but he says he is committed to making sure it is included in the final, identical bill both chambers will vote on after conference.
"The heart of the First Amendment obviously is religious liberties and being able to express those beliefs in the public square," Hice told CBN News. "The core of that has got to be in our churches, in our houses of worship, and the centerpiece of that is the pulpit. And with the Johnson Amendment, as it currently is, it allows the government to censor and literally police what is said in the pulpits of America and that is as unconstitutional as it can be."
"This repeal of the Johnson amendment will take away that authority of the IRS and our government to police speech in the pulpits of America and that is a huge, huge step in the positive direction for religious liberty," continued Hice.
Another provision Christian lawmakers are fighting to include in the tax reform bill is the Universal Charitable Giving Act proposed by Mark Walker, R - N. Carolina, in the House and James Lankford, R - Okla., in the Senate. The bill would expand the number of people able to deduct charitable contributions from their taxes.
Currently, only people who itemize their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction can receive a tax credit from charitable donations. The number of Americans who itemize under current law is about 70%, but under the new tax plan that number could rise to around 90%.
Walker worries an unintended consequence of doubling the standard deduction in the tax reform plan which results in less people itemizing their deductions, could also lead to a decrease in incentive for many taxpayers to give charitable contributions.
"Nearly a third of Americans that do not itemize still give to charitable organizations; nonprofits, shelters, churches," Walker told CBN News. "We want to make sure that those people are not penalized, not for the fact that they give just because of deductions, but we don't want to see a drop off in some of these nonprofits who do such great work in our community."
Walker's bill was not included in the House plan passed Thursday, but he said he's working very hard with Senator James Lankford to get it into the Senate version of the bill. Both lawmakers hope the amendment will then be protected when representatives from the House and Senate negotiate the two bills in conference.
"It's much more efficient when you have individuals actually taking care of social needs in a society, much more efficient than government is. We're trying to continue to encourage people to engage in nonprofits," Lankford said.
Lankford and Walker say this bill would encourage lower and middle class families to give to the charities they want to support, by offering an "above-the-line deduction up to one-third of the standard deduction – about $2,100 for individuals and $4,200 for married couples."
"About 90% of Americans would no longer have to itemize, so only 10% of Americans would have to itemize, at this point those would be at the higher brackets," said Lankford. "They could still do charitable donations and write that off with that one. This bill would allow those that are even below that level of 90% level of income to also be able to write off some of their non profit donations."
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