Initiatives and Collaborations

What is the Johnson Amendment?

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code permits a federal income tax exemption for human service and other qualifying social sector organizations if they comply with certain conditions. These conditions are intended to ensure that exempt organizations are not operated for the benefit of private interests, such as paying out profits to shareholders or other individuals. Another condition, known as the Johnson Amendment, further provides that 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations “may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” This language protects nonprofits, religious institutions, and foundations from a relatively narrow range of activities which includes endorsing political candidates and donating to political campaigns. The Johnson Amendment does not impose any limitation on the ability for nonprofits to advocate on behalf of social, moral, and public policy issues.

The Johnson Amendment, moreover, does not infringe on the First Amendment rights of any individual or organization. First, the Supreme Court has held that “declining to subsidize” the direct political activities of a nonprofit or religious institution does not infringe an organization’s free speech or freedom of religion. Any nonprofit institution can choose not to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) organization, or can create a separate 501(c)(4) organization to participate in political campaigning. Second, nonprofit and religious leaders are still free to engage in political campaign activities in their capacity as private individuals.

Why It Matters

The National Human Services Assembly strongly believes that our sector most effectively builds and maintains the well-being that allows communities to reach their potential when our resources are focused on mission-related work, not political campaigns. We should continue to be protected as advocates for the issues that affect our broader communities, and not be exposed to getting wrapped up in partisan politics.

Your organization’s support to protect the Johnson Amendment is crucial to maintaining the public trust that the nonprofit sector has earned by bridging our communities through nonpartisan efforts and bipartisan solutions.


1. See if your organization has already signed.

2. If not, sign your organization on to the Community Letter in Support of Nonpartisanship; and

3. Share the letter broadly with your members or affiliates, board members, sector colleagues, and others in your networks.

4. Use these talking points when asking your representatives to protect the Johnson Amendment.