History of the Johnson Amendment
Lyndon B. Johnson, a powerful texas politician, was running for reelection to the US senate in 1954. His opponent was Dudley Dowry who was not going to present much of a problem for Johnson until Frank Gannett and H. L. Hunt entered the picture.
Gannett created a non-profit organization called the Committee for Constitutional Government in 1935 and Hunt created a non-profit organization called Facts Forum in 1951. Both of the organizations were anti communist and both were supporting Dowry in his race against Johnson. Gannett and Hunt believed that Johnson was soft on communism and did not want to see him reelected.
These two non-profit organizations handed out thousands of pieces of literature in opposition to Johnson’s campaign. The Johnson Amendment was enacted to silence these organizations. He was not trying to address any constitutional issue related to separation of church and state and he did not offer the amendment because of anything that churches had done. The only reason they were banned is because they have the same tax-exempt status as Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government.
The Issue in Canada
Pastors are silenced in Canada as well thanks to the Income Tax Act which defines a charitable organization in part based on its dedication of resources to charitable activities. The Act states that an organization that devotes “substantially all” of its resources to such activities qualify if “(a) it devotes part of its resources to political activities, (b) those political activities are ancillary and incidental to its charitable activities, and (c) those political activities do not include the direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.” (Section 149.1 (6.2)).
The Canada Revenue Agency, which determines eligibility for registered charity status, offers further clarification on this issue in a policy statement which defines prohibited political activities as follows: “A charity may not take part in an illegal activity or a partisan political activity. A partisan political activity is one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office.”