No, not that Fisherman. The other one.
The power to tax is the power to destroy.
–Daniel Webster, et al.
The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is infamous for many things.
Most domestically notable are two programs: the Great Society and Medicare. Both programs can arguably be viewed as bait to Americans. Bait for what? Luring the poor into government dependence, luring the elderly into the same, and luring the descendants of all into catastrophic debt. This debt applies both individually and nationally.
However, I was fascinated to discover that these programs were not LBJ’s first forays into hooking groups into government control. At The Federalist, Leslie Loftis notes that his first target was the church.
When the federal tax code was written, that the government couldn’t tax churches was assumed. For one, at the beginning of the union, only the federal government was prohibited from establishing a religion. The state governments could and did establish churches. They didn’t tax churches, but collected taxes for the church. This stopped after the Civil War and the ratification and subsequent case law of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the federal proscription against an established religion to the individual states.
Essentially, churches have complied with the exemption requirements of the tax code rather than asserting the right to be free from taxation.
To punish and prevent political opponents [including churches] from speaking out against him, [in 1954] then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, who was in a contentious re-election campaign, pushed through an amendment to the tax code which prohibits “political activity” by 501(c)(3) entities. It is called the Johnson Amendment. Since the prohibition passed, it has only been lightly—and selectively—enforced.
Loftis points to bi-partisan examples of this selective enforcement, but notes that
[m]ost churches, however, tend to err on the side of caution lest the IRS decide to prosecute, either on a whim or as part of a larger political intimidation program much like the one they have run in the past few years against conservative secular organizations.
In other words, due to LBJ’s little trap, most churches yield to fear and/or love of money.
Oh and Loftis also notes that the IRS is the process of composing new guidelines for political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches at the the legal behest of the Freedom From Religion Foundation(!) Aren’t all we Jesus freaks, Bible-thumpers and bitter-clingers looking forward to the passage of such regulations so that we can find out what’s in them?
Back to LBJ. We have had several problematic presidents and the current one seems like the biggest one. But he and his ideological siblings who sit in political office at all levels of government–like Houston Mayor Annise Parker–can look to the politicians of the past and thank them for laying the foundations of tyranny by luring an intentionally under-educated populace into assenting to it.
Politicians like LBJ: Dixiecrat, Reenslaver of black Americans, and Persecutor of the Church.
Quite a legacy, don’t you think?
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