The next time election season rolls around, how would you like to see yard signs on our Temple lawn with the names of candidates running for office? How would you feel if you attended a service and I gave a sermon trying to convince you who to vote for? How would it impact you if during the Oneg you were given a hand-out listing the municipal, state, and national candidates the Temple Board endorses for office?
I have a feeling you would not like having this take place at your synagogue. Neither would I.
Our Reform congregation is committed to the prophetic ideals of our faith. Our synagogue speaks out on public policies and issues of social justice.
However, Temple Beth Torah strictly adheres to a provision in the United States tax code, known as the Johnson Amendment, by which no 501(c)(3) organization can endorse or oppose a candidate for office.
An executive order signed today by President Trump weakens the Johnson Amendment. The order discourages the IRS from aggressively going after houses of worship for their political expression.
I strongly condemn this presidential order.
Reform rabbis across the nation also are alarmed. Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, expresses the position of the Reform Movement:
(Thursday’s) “executive order undermines the First Amendment principles and protections that allow religious life to flourish in the United States. It also attacks reproductive rights and privileges one set of religious beliefs over all others. The Reform Movement condemns President Trump’s executive order on religious freedom issues in the strongest possible terms.
The Johnson Amendment has been a vital safeguard for the integrity of American religious institutions and the political process by defending the separation of church and state. We strongly oppose this executive order and any attempt to weaken or repeal the Johnson Amendment.
Speaking truth to power is a hallmark of religious life in the United States. Clergy and communities of faith already raise our voices loudly on issues of political and social concern. The prohibition against endorsing or opposing political candidates from our pulpits simply prevents groups from being simultaneously tax-exempt ministries and partisan political outfits. Blurring that line threatens the prophetic voices of religious groups and opens the door to political coercion of houses of worship.
As people of faith, we understand that the unique American commitment to religious liberty has allowed religious freedom to flourish alongside other rights. We strongly urge President Trump to immediately rescind this executive order. We also call on Members of Congress to do everything in their power to oppose and block it and to ensure all people can access the healthcare they need.”