No Freedom of Speech From the Pulpit

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Jun 29, 2012 No Comments ›› Site Administrator Censored_things_you_cant_say_in_church

No Freedom of Speech From the Pulpit

The following post was guest-authored by 3rd-year law student Adam Parker, a 2012 summer intern at the Foundation for Moral Law.

SHH!

Freedom of Speech… As Long as That Speech isn’t Coming from a Pulpit!

Most people that are a part of church ministry know of the travesty that is often referred to as the “Johnson Amendment”—if not by name then at least by effect.  It is this  Amendment to the Internal Revenue Act of 1954 that gags pastors in the pulpit and sidelines churches who may wish to speak out about candidates for public office.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” However, that is exactly what Congress did when then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson’s amendment to the 1954 tax code was enacted!

Let’s look at exactly what Senator Johnson said when he proposed the bill to amend the tax code.

“[T]his amendment seeks to extend the provisions of section 501 of the House bill, denying tax-exempt status to not only those people who influence legislation but also to those who intervene in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for any public office. I have discussed the matter with the chairman of the committee, the minority ranking member of the committee, and several other members of the committee, and I understand that the amendment is acceptable to them. I hope the chairman will take it to conference, and that it will be included in the final bill which Congress passes.”

See an explanation of the law from the IRS and the actual language of the tax code here (http://www NULL.irs NULL.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=161131,00 NULL.html). (Johnson was incorrect in that tax-exempt status is not lost for influencing legislation as a small part of a non-profit’s activities.)

This law has been used to silence not only non-profit organizations from participating in politics, but most importantly the ministers of our churches! The First Amendment not only guarantees freedom of speech, but also freedom of religion. Some of these “political issues” like homosexual marriage, birth control, abortion, and drugs are also very important moral issues. It is not only a minister’s legal right to comment on these issues, it is his/her religious duty. The government should not be able to issue what is effectively a gag order, banning anyone from endorsing a particular side on an issue or a candidate which supports that side. It is blatantly unconstitutional. Not only does this go against more recent Supreme Court rulings, but it goes against our nation’s history. Just for example, a pastor endorsed Michelle Bachmann in 2006 (http://minnesotaindependent NULL.com/11468/living-word-fights-irs-investigation-in-district-court). It is an utter disgrace that this law is allowed to remain in effect.

Many of the politics of our nation’s founding were discussed from the pulpit. The meetings that organized the Civil Rights marches (http://www NULL.insideec NULL.com/?p=16956) were usually in churches. Some will still argue today that politics don’t belong in the church, but that is usually the place where many political viewpoints originate. The church, or the non-profit organization for that matter, should be able to publicly endorse an issue and even a candidate–especially if a candidate stands firmly for what that organization believes–or the opposing candidate stands against everything the organization believes.

Another large disgrace is that in 1983 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Johnson Amendment was constitutional in the case of Regan (http://www NULL.oyez NULL.org/cases/1980-1989/1982/1982_81_2338/) v. Taxation Without Representation of Washington. The Court basically said that freedom of speech didn’t extend to organizations or corporations and that the penalty in this case wasn’t that big of a deal. The penalty is to deny churches or other 501(c)(3) corporations of their tax-exempt status. This is a huge penalty because many churches would not be able to survive if they were taxed. The government should not be able to tax a religious organization regardless of any conditions. Just as the establishment clause protects a church from forcing the government to pay a tithe, the government should be prohibited from taxing a religious organization by the free exercise clause.

For years, our courts have told us through tyrannical judge-made law that while a fetus is not a person under the law, a corporation is considered a person. In the 2010 landmark case of Citizens United (http://www NULL.oyez NULL.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_08_205) v. Federal Election Commission, the Court said that corporate speech is at least somewhat protected. If corporate speech deserves protection, wouldn’t this same protection apply to 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations? I would argue that it does. And it is only a matter of time before justice is carried out and the Johnson Amendment is found to be unconstitutional if it is not repealed by Congress.

One of the hurdles to seeing the Amendment stricken as unconstitutional in court is finding a party to bring a legal suit. Why is doing this such a challenge? Because the IRS has not revoked an organizations tax exempt status for participating in politics in several years. Yes, the Internal Revenue Service has conducted investigations, but it has not been revoking tax exempt status. This may be because the IRS knows this part of the tax code is unconstitutional.

I know if a politician stands for everything I believe in I will tell people to vote for him; and likewise, if another politician supports what I am morally against I will urge others not to vote for them. I personally would love to see more preachers actually preach on the important moral issues of the day, which some people have tried to keep them from doing by saying the issue is too political. I would also love to see non-profit groups participate in the political process by endorsing candidates and informing people on the bills and issues. These are the people who know the most about the issues, because these are the people who work on the issues, day in and day out, and are very passionate about their work. Groups should not have to form 501(c)(4)s or PACs to do this. Tax-exempt organizations, especially churches, should be able to speak freely and without penalty! AS THE CONSTITUTION (http://www NULL.house NULL.gov/house/Constitution/Constitution NULL.html) ALLOWS!

I would like to end this discussion by encouraging everyone to take a look at the Pulpit Initiative (http://www NULL.alliancedefensefund NULL.org/Home/ADFContent?cid=4485) that the Alliance Defense Fund has been working on. It is definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to solving this problem. Contact the Foundation for Moral Law for more information about what churches and non-profits may still do under the Johnson Amendment to be a light and conscience to our Country.

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