By Lisa Cannon Green
Update: Senate passed the $1.3 trillion spending bill just past midnight on Friday, March 23. The bill now heads to President Trump for signature or veto.
Churches concerned about political endorsements, abortion funding, immigration policy, and other hot-button topics have reasons to keep an eye on a bill headed for a House vote as early as today.
Facing a Friday deadline to avert another partial government shutdown, congressional leaders tentatively agreed late Wednesday on a $1.3 trillion spending bill.
Here are seven points churches might want to be aware of in the 2,232-page bill.
Political endorsements from the pulpit remain off limits
The spending bill preserves the Johnson Amendment, an IRS rule that bans all nonprofits, including churches, from active involvement in political campaigns.
President Trump had sought to repeal it, and many pastors agreed. In a 2017 survey by Lifeway Research, more than 7 in 10 Protestant senior pastors said Congress should curb the IRS’ power to penalize a church because of sermon content.
Other pastors have argued repealing the amendment could turn churches into political tools.
Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe it’s inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church, a 2015 Lifeway Research survey found.
“Pastors—and Americans in general—don’t want church services to turn into campaign rallies,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “But when they do address political candidates, they don’t believe it is the government’s business.”
Planned Parenthood continues to receive federal funds
The conservative House Freedom Caucus quickly moved to oppose the spending bill, noting in a statement that it “fully funds grants that go to Planned Parenthood.”
Some caucus members tried to amend the spending bill Wednesday night, but their amendments failed.
Immigration policy remains unsettled
The spending plan includes $1.6 billion for fencing—not construction of a wall—along parts of the U.S. border with Mexico. Some of the funds would replace existing fences.
Sanctuary cities, places that don’t cooperate with federal efforts to enforce immigration law, face no new punishments or restrictions.
“This bill barely provides for border security, yet continues to allow federal dollars to flow to sanctuary cities,” the House Freedom Caucus statement said.
The spending bill also includes nothing for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
A 2015 Lifeway Research survey found more than 6 in 10 American evangelicals support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
No school vouchers, but funds to curb school violence
The bill doesn’t fund a school choice plan and private school vouchers pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
It does increase funding for school safety measures, such as installing metal detectors and improving mental health services, but does not provide funds to arm teachers.
Gun purchases get more scrutiny
A measure called “Fix NICS” would increase background checks for gun purchases. States would get more money to help them enter information in the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and would be penalized if they don’t.
Supporters say the process could help stop incidents like the November mass shooting that killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
A domestic violence conviction should have prevented the shooter from buying the gun he used, but his conviction had not been entered in NICS, so it didn’t show up in a background check.
The House Freedom Caucus objected to the measure. Fix NICS would allow authorities to take away people’s Second Amendment rights, caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Politico.
The war on opioid abuse escalates
The bill includes more than $4.65 billion for preventing and treating opioid abuse, as well as research and law enforcement efforts. That’s an increase of $3 billion from 2017.
Churches play an important role in helping people who suffer from addiction, says Monty Burks, director of faith-based initiatives for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.
States can pursue medical uses for marijuana
A rider to the spending bill bars the federal government from interfering with state laws regarding medical marijuana. The policy has been in place since 2014 but was at risk of not being extended.
Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states, with three more considering it this year, according to the Motley Fool.
- Pulpit no place for political endorsements, say most Americans
- Pastors say Congress should end IRS oversight of sermons
- The IRS & the pulpit: What your church needs to know
- Evangelicals to Congress: Tackle immigration
LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisacgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.