Political candidates, by the way, function under no such restrictions, and can be as critical of Catholicism or Mormonism or Islam as they like. Yet church leaders can’t explicitly react. And while religions have institutional positions on many major political issues, from abortion to gay marriage to refugee bans, their leaders are specifically incentivized by the state to avoid debating the people who make laws governing those issues.
Moreover, as far as I know, the Free Speech Clause does not come with an asterisk and a set of conditions for participation. The argument I hear most often in defense of the Johnson Amendment goes something like this: “What about separation of church and state, you theocratic nut! Why should I subsidize the church’s speech?”
Don’t join one, and you won’t. I don’t.
Unless you’re arguing that the state is entitled to every dollar in America, and that every dollar it doesn’t collect is considered a subsidy. Church members already pay all kinds of taxes. Churches, in fact, were exempt from taxes long before Johnson decided to restrict speech freedoms. Tax exemptions to religious institutions are already constitutional. In fact, the Supreme Court found that these exemptions created only “minimal and remote involvement between church and state and far less than taxation of churches” (italics mine). Making expression contingent on a tribute to the state is risible justification for limiting rights.