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Monday, October 3, 2011

Johnson Amendment vs. First Amendment

I recently wrote a post on Christians speaking out in politics (http://tcavey.blogspot.com/2011/09/taboopolitics-religion.html).  Since writing this, I have had a few people ask me questions regarding tax exemptions for churches if pastors were to speak out.  I did some research (I am not a tax expert - please correct me if I am wrong or provide further insight in you have any) and here is what I have found:

The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,…." (emphasis mine)

The First Amendment clearly shows that churches and pastors of all religions have a right to exercise their religion free of governmental interference.  And for hundreds of years, America operated under this protection.

However, in 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson was up for re-election and was venomously being opposed by two organizations, in effort to “silence” them, he helped institute the 1954 gag order in the IRS tax code for non-profit organizations (though many on both sides agree he never intended for this to extend to the churches).  

As stated above, prior to this, churches throughout America’s history played a major role in politics.   The two were  so intertwined that in the mid 1800’s, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian, wrote this in his book, Democracy in America, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”

So why is it that we have allowed something so recent in our history to dictate how our churches operate on the pulpit today?  

I believe it is because churches are afraid of being audited, too afraid to challenge an unconstitutional amendment.  In fact, from what I have been able to find, the Johnson Amendment has never been challenged in the courts because those in favor of it realize it is unconstitutional.  Instead, they rely on intimidation to keep our ministers silent.  

Each year, letters are sent out by the IRS reminding churches that they will “lose their tax exemption status” if they speak out.  

This is wrong!  We need to take a stand!

In 2008 a group of 33 pastors started a movement of recording their political sermons and sending them directly to the IRS.  In 2009 that number increased to 84 pastors and in 2010 there were 100 pastors involved in this movement.  None of them, to my knowledge, has lost their tax exemption!

The Alliance Defense Fund, ADF, is offering pro bono services to any church organization that speaks out and is facing losing their tax exemption status.  They are doing this in an effort to help churches maintain their First Amendment rights.

While I do not believe anyone/ group should tell citizens how to vote or who to vote for, I firmly believe the church has a place in politics.  Too many social issues are also religious ones.  While I do not want to go into specific examples, I believe we all have areas our religious beliefs influence how we vote.  

Our pastors have a right to inform their congregations of the political views of candidates and of educating their flocks on social issues being voted upon.  Ministers have the freedom to help change our world if they will take courage and stand for what is right instead of doing what is easy.

Our First Amendment guarantees us freedom of religion and speech; generation’s of history are on our side as well as recent accounts of the IRS not challenging pastors who do speak out!  

I pray all religious affiliations will take a stand against the intimidation of keeping silent.  Only those who live in the shadows have anything to fear about the light truth brings.  

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matt 5:14 NIV

Do you think ministers have a right to speak behind the pulpit regarding socially political issues, why or why not? 

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