The Founding Fathers recognized that the U.S. Constitution should not be easily amended. That is why they determined that amendments must pass both houses of Congress and be approved by three-fourths of the state legislatures, the most stringent majority requirement since the Articles of Confederation. This notion of a “living” constitution is a complete non sequitur to the actions taken by the Framers. Because of this great weight placed on the passage of constitutional amendments, there is an equally great weight placed behind the authority of amendments when they are passed. The authority of amendments is paramount to understanding the implications of what the Equal Rights Amendment would have done to the American system of government. Phyllis Schlafly understood this gravity better than most, which equipped her to write about the implications of ERA on religious freedom in the March 1975 Phyllis Schlafly Report.
Federal encroachment on religious expression is the antithesis of traditional American values. The Johnson Amendment is the primary example of this encroachment in our nation today. Originally introduced by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson in 1954, this law prevents nonprofit organizations with 501(c)3 status from engaging in political activity or speech. While not a constitutional amendment, the Johnson Amendment has been used as a scare tactic for years against churches. Since nearly all religious organizations hold 501(c)3 status, the Johnson Amendment essentially seeks to silence them.
The issue today is not whether religious institutions should be involved in politics. The issue in 1975 was not about whether religious institutions should ordain women or have single-sex schools. Regardless of your personal beliefs on those subjects, we should all be able to agree that the Federal Government has no business regulating places of worship. While most conservatives seem to be in agreement on this fact, liberals cannot keep their positions straight. Where are those advocates of the “separation of church and state” when the state wants to regulate the church? Shouldn’t liberals be the first to want government out of the church house? Unfortunately, liberals do not see separation of church and state as a two-way street. While they are quick to criticize the words “under God” in the pledge or Christmas decorations on public property, they do not care about separating churches from burdensome government regulations that seek to gag them.
People of faith everywhere were delighted to hear then-candidate Donald Trump assuage the fears of religious conservatives by promising to get rid of the Johnson Amendment once and for all. At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2, 2017, President Trump repeated his promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” By realizing this goal, President Trump will make an incredible step in the fight to restore this nation to its constitutional foundation of free religious expression. If the Johnson Amendment could so devastate the faith community as an amendment to a law, one can only imagine the devastation that the Equal Rights Amendment could have done as a part of the U.S. Constitution. We should never forget the incredible service Phyllis Schlafly did for people of faith by seeing to the demise of ERA.