Charitable Chief Uncharitable on Speech

A prominent nonprofit association leader continues to direct unfounded and unprovoked barbs at NRB and its members in his opposition to any curtailment of the infamous Johnson Amendment. Tim Delaney, president & CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, recently told Nonprofit Quarterly that NRB had formally issued a resolution against the Johnson Amendment and seemed to suggest this “self-serving agenda” was to “allow secret political campaign contributions to be funneled to many of its members.”

NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson this week responded, “I am disappointed in the scurrilous attacks levied on NRB by the National Council of Nonprofits, an association with which I would hope we could have a constructive relationship.”

Delaney was referring to an action by the NRB Board of Directors, a body of approximately 100 key leaders among Christian communicators, at Proclaim18. The Board unanimously approved a resolution calling on “government and ministry leaders to stand against the Johnson Amendment’s chill of the constitutional free speech rights of churches and ministries.” Unfortunately, Delaney neglected to engage the resolution’s substance. NRB believes the 1954 statute is dangerous to the basic American value of free speech, particularly given its vague and inconsistent application by the IRS.

Sadly, this is not the only such instance. In a January article lamenting the “destructive tsunami” of the recently enacted tax reform law, Delaney dismissed with scare quotes the reasoning behind the thoughtfully crafted language of the NRB-supported Free Speech Fairness Act. That legislation, authored by Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) in the House of Representatives and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) in the Senate, would provide a Johnson Amendment remedy by clarifying that political statements by 501(c)(3) organizations are permissible, as long as they are made in the ordinary course of an organization’s activities and any expenditures related to them are de minimis. Delaney found this effort to carefully address the First Amendment chill of the Johnson Amendment so offensive that he accused by name President Trump, Vice President Pence, and, among others, NRB as simply being motivated by a “lust for profit and power.”

It is notable that since January 2017, the National Council of Nonprofits has issued 23 press releases and 16 of those have featured, if not solely focused on, the Johnson Amendment debate. Delaney’s association clearly has made defending this statute a major priority.

NRB’s Johnson said, “I appreciate Mr. Delaney’s interest in this important topic, and I would invite more productive dialogue, rather than disparagement.”

Johnson added, “I believe Mr. Delaney is confusing the question before us in the context of the well-balanced Free Speech Fairness Act. The question is not whether or not churches and charities should choose to make political endorsements. Rather, it is whether or not the government should be empowered to stifle basic speech. We should by default embrace America’s core liberties and be willing to take responsibility for our own comments freely made in the ordinary course of service to our constituents.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: March 16, 2018

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