From today’s mailbox:
LEAWOOD, Kan. — Eighty-three churches from 30 states and the District of Columbia participated in the Alliance Defense Fund’s second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 27. Pastors at those churches preached biblically-based sermons about the positions of electoral candidates and current government officials. More than twice the number of pastors participating in last year’s inaugural event exercised their constitutional right to free religious expression this year, despite a controversial rule often used by the Internal Revenue Service and activist groups to silence churches.
“The government shouldn’t be used to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights, as church leaders have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Forcing politics into the pulpit is not the goal of ADF. Our whole intent is for churches to be free to preach how Scripture applies to every area of life, including candidates and elections, if they choose to do so. The IRS shouldn’t be making this decision for churches by threatening to revoke their tax-exempt status. To truly protect religious freedom, the government needs to get out of the pulpit.”
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an annual event associated with the ADF Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing censorship or punishment. Some of the pastors preaching at their churches addressed the positions of candidates in current state governor’s races, while others addressed the positions of existing government officials.
Ever since the Johnson Amendment was added to the Federal Tax Code in 1954, the IRS has been issuing increasingly vague guidance on the law. This has had the effect of limiting the First Amendment rights of pastors speaking from the pulpit, as the IRS continues to launch investigations while avoiding court review of the constitutionality of its actions. Organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken advantage of the tax law’s ambiguity and have reported churches to the IRS in hopes of taking away their tax-exempt status.
“From the day the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954, churches were completely free to preach about political candidates,” said Stanley. “For more than 50 years, the Johnson Amendment has been used to muzzle pastors who want to avoid an IRS investigation. Many pastors have self-censored their speech to avoid threats and penalties, often being afraid to criticize the blatant immorality found in government and foregoing opportunities to commend moral leaders in office. In contrast, participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refused to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.