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The IRS recently apologized for targeting conservative groups with audits and investigations during the 2012 election.  In some cases, the IRS asked about political affiliations, lists of donors, and family members’ activities.  Apparently, the groups were targeted because they had the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their names.  An IRS official apologized, saying, “That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review… The IRS would like to apologize for that.”

What the IRS did here is unconstitutional.  It is always outrageous when the coercive powers of government are used for political intimidation.  And I am glad that the IRS has apologized for its actions.  But this story illustrates the problem when we allow government agencies and officials to exercise unfettered power to enforce vague and ambiguous laws.

The IRS has in fact been exercising that kind of power since 1954 with the Johnson Amendment that allows it to censor a pastor’s sermon from the pulpit.  The Johnson Amendment prohibits “participating in or intervening in” a political campaign “on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office.”  The IRS has interpreted this over the years to say that churches cannot “directly or indirectly” participate in a campaign.  But there is no definition of what it means to “indirectly” participate in a campaign.  The IRS tells churches that it must consider “all the facts and circumstances” to determine when a church has violated the Johnson Amendment.  Basically, this means that it won’t tell churches with precision what speech violates the Johnson Amendment and instead will wait and evaluate everything after the fact to then determine if the church has violated the law.  The IRS even went so far as to say that a church could violate the Johnson Amendment by the use of “code words” where it doesn’t even have to name a candidate specifically but if it speaks in a certain way that the IRS believes supports or opposes a candidate, then that could violate the law.

The point here is that the IRS enforcement of the Johnson Amendment is a situation particularly susceptible to abuse of power.  The IRS is unaccountable for who it investigates, when it investigates, or even whether it investigates violations of the Johnson Amendment.  It issues vague pronouncements designed to intimidate churches into silence out of fear of an IRS audit or penalties.  The IRS’ recent apology demonstrates that it has broad, coercive, and unconstitutional powers that can be used improperly to chill speech and intimidate the exercise of constitutional rights.  But that’s what the IRS has been doing with the Johnson Amendment since 1954. The situation is even worse when considering the fact that the Johnson Amendment was passed in the first place to silence political opponents of Senator Lyndon Johnson.

The Johnson Amendment is an unconstitutional restriction on a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit and it allows the IRS to utilize intimidation to enforce the law and chill constitutionally protected speech.  Alliance Defending Freedom has been fighting the Johnson Amendment and its unconstitutional effects on churches and pastors.  That’s why we started Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008.  If you are a pastor, sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on June 9, 2013.  This year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday is about marriage, but it remains about the broader principle that no IRS official should ever tell a pastor what he can or cannot say from the pulpit.

The recent IRS apology is a beginning.  But the IRS should also apologize for 59 years of intimidation of pastors and churches.  It’s time to end the Johnson Amendment’s regime of censorship.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

My grandmother used to always quote the old mariner’s saying: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.  Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  While meteorologists will debate whether this saying is accurate, one thing about it is true.  Before the days of radars and satellites, the sailors of old would always keep an eye on the horizon to judge whether gathering clouds were harbingers of bad weather.

We also have a saying at Alliance Defending Freedom: “While you shepherd your flock, we’ll watch the horizon.”  The sentiment behind this statement is that pastors frequently lack time or expertise to watch the horizon and judge what poses a legal threat to the church. That’s why God placed Alliance Defending Freedom in this place at this time. We are watching the legal horizon.

This year, marriage is a hot topic in legal circles. The United States Supreme Court is deciding cases involving the definition of the institution created by God in the Garden of Eden even before the fall of man. How can you as a pastor best respond in these challenging times?

Before the Court has its say, America’s pastors must have their say

The Supreme Court decision is expected to be handed down by the end of June. In its decision, the Supreme Court will have its say on how our laws will treat marriage. But before the Supreme Court has its say, America’s pastors must have their say. That’s why we are conducting Pulpit Freedom Sunday on June 9, 2013. On that day, pastors across the country will stand united to proclaim with one voice what God’s design for marriage is and why our country should honor that design and resist the siren’s call to redefine this most basic of human institutions.

If you have not yet signed up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday, please do so. The sign-up process only takes a minute.  If you cannot preach on June 9, then pick a Sunday as close to that day as possible and indicate the date of your message in the sign-up process.

In this crucial time in our country’s history, the voice of God from the shepherds of God’s flocks must be heard proclaiming biblical Truth about marriage to a society that far too often seems on the verge of forgetting marriage altogether.

What’s the state of the marriage battle?

Given the complexities of the legal process, many pastors feel daunted by the prospect of communicating the state of the marriage battle. However, we’ve made it easy for you.  This simple map will show you the current state of the battle to protect marriage in the United States.

There are also numerous sermon preparation resources on our website to help you effectively communicate about marriage to your congregation. There are resources about God’s design for marriage, and the threat that same-sex “marriage” poses to religious freedom.

We also have created a resource highlighting the positions certain elected officials took before the Supreme Court on the issue of marriage. You can use this resource to praise elected officials who fought to protect marriage as God intended, or to call out with biblical Truth those officials who took a public stand against marriage.

What do I need to do to protect my church?

We also receive many questions about what proactive steps churches can take to protect themselves.  There are a couple of things all churches can do to best position themselves for the future.

First, read our resource Seven Things all Churches Should have in their Bylaws. We also have some suggested bylaw language on marriage and human sexuality that will help churches in this regard.

Second, we advise every church to adopt a facilities usage policy that governs use of church facilities for wedding ceremonies. We have created a sample policy for you to use to ensure your church is protected.

Even in those states that adopted same-sex “marriage” or some equivalent, such as civil unions, churches do not have to allow use of their facilities for wedding ceremonies that are inconsistent with their faith. But there is an effort underway in some areas — such as Hawaii and Hutchinson, Kansas — to force churches to allow use of their facilities for same-sex “weddings” if they open their facilities for use by non-members for weddings at all. Passing a facilities usage policy provides a good defense. Put simply, no government official has the right to force a church to allow its facilities to be used for events that violate its religious beliefs.

Never forget that Alliance Defending Freedom is “watching the legal horizon.” We will continue to keep you updated and provide the best ways you as a pastor can respond to protect your church from legal threats.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

For some time now, the IRS has not been auditing churches.  As I explained in more detail in this post, the IRS’ decision to “suspend” church audits stems from a 2009 federal court decision finding the IRS’ regulations on church audits to be unlawful.  Since that decision, the IRS, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has not been auditing any churches.  It has said since 2009 that it is preparing new regulations that will enable it to begin auditing churches again, but we have not seen those regulations finalized.

However, at a recent tax conference, Treasury Attorney-Advisor Ruth Madrigal said that the IRS’ long-awaited rules on church audits are “close” to being finalized.  So what does this mean for churches?

What this means is that once the IRS’ regulations on auditing churches are finalized, then it is logical to assume that the IRS will begin auditing churches again.  Whether this means that the IRS will audit churches that participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday remains to be seen.  We will have to closely watch the IRS’ actions once the church audit rules are finalized.

But ultimately, the constitutional rights of pastors and churches do not turn on whether the IRS decides to audit churches.  Alliance Defending Freedom has said for years that the Johnson Amendment in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code is unconstitutional.  If the IRS audits and penalizes churches for something it believes violates the Johnson Amendment, then Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend the constitutional rights of America’s pastors to speak biblical truth uncensored by the IRS.

For now, we will continue to monitor the situation and will make you aware of any changes the IRS proposes.  As we say here at Alliance Defending Freedom, “You watch your flock, and we’ll watch the horizon.”  And if you have not yet signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, please do so today.  This year, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is all about marriage, and America desperately needs to hear what God says about marriage at this crucial time.  Signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday is easy and we hope to see thousands of pastors standing united on June 9, 2013, preaching biblical truth about marriage.  Will you be one of those pastors?  Please sign up today.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

In a recent blog post, Dr. Al Mohler recounted a conversation he had with a woman who spoke to him after he had addressed a large crowd, and asked him the question, “Why won’t the abortion issue just go away?”  As we reach the fortieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps that is a question that a lot of our fellow citizens ask.  Every year that passes seems to heighten the fact that the mounting statistics are literally and unalterably horrifying.  The death toll now surpasses 55 million babies aborted since the 1973 decision.  There is no varnishing the fact that we stand today in a country where there are millions less of us than there normally would be. In 2011, Planned Parenthood reported over 333,000 abortions.  That averages to one abortion every 94 seconds.  In the time it takes you to read this blog post, two or three babies have been killed by abortion.

So on this 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision are we at times tempted to echo the woman who questioned Dr. Mohler and wonder why this issue won’t just go away?  Do we grow weary in the battle at times?  In times like this, when we mark milestones in the abortion battle, it is good to step back and realize just why this issue will never go away for Christians and why America’s pastors must never stop proclaiming God’s truth about abortion.  Because no matter what society does or says, and no matter how the death toll mounts, God’s truth never changes and He hates abortion.

Psalm 119:160 says of God, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”  Isaiah 40:8 proclaims that “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”  The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:23 speaks of the “living and abiding word of God” and then echoes Isaiah that “the word of the Lord remains forever.”  Scripture proclaims that God’s Word stands forever.  Put another way, it never, ever, ever changes.  And when God says in Proverbs 6:16-17 that he hates hands that shed innocent blood, His hatred doesn’t somehow go away after we reach a threshold of innocent blood that has been spilled. No, God’s Word stands forever.  He will forever hate hands that shed innocent blood.

But we must also remember that our God forgives and heals.  The Psalmist declares that God “forgives all your iniquity.” In 1 Chronicles 16:34, David proclaimed that God’s “steadfast love endures forever.”  That’s also a message today’s pastors must proclaim.  Because for every one of the over 55 million babies that have been aborted since 1973, there also stands a woman broken by the pain and hurt of abortion who is in desperate need of a forgiveness and love that only God can extend and that He promises to provide to those who ask.

On this day that we mark forty years of abortion on demand, and mourn the loss of over 55 million of our fellow citizens, we must remember why this issue will never just “go away” until abortion is once again recognized as illegal and punishable as murder in our criminal laws.  It’s because God’s truth never changes.  His truth has not changed in forty years and will remain the same forever.

On this blog, we frequently talk about how biblical truth is under assault.  That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom was created, though.  Because we must protect the proclamation of God’s unchanging truth to a culture that doesn’t want to hear it.  If America’s churches and pastors are to remain faithful in this day, we must stand together for biblical truth no matter how our society tends to ignore it or try to change it.  Pastors must proclaim that God’s truth does not and will not change.  Abortion is just as wrong today as it was 40 years ago.  And it will be wrong forever.

And forever is a lot longer than forty years.

 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

By now many of you have probably heard that Atlanta pastor Louie Giglio has removed himself from giving the prayer at President Obama’s inauguration after a firestorm of criticism erupted over his inclusion in the ceremony.  The firestorm was over a sermon Pastor Giglio gave over a decade ago where he discussed the biblical view of homosexual behavior.  In a direct way, he confronted the view that homosexual behavior was simply an “alternative lifestyle.”  Pastor Giglio stated that: “If you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternative lifestyle.  Homosexuality is not just a sexual preference.  Homosexuality is not gay.  But homosexuality is sin.”  You can hear his comments in this video.

After these comments came to light, groups advocating homosexual behavior demanded that Giglio withdraw from the inauguration, which he did, claiming that he did not want his presence to detract from the work he has been doing recently to end human trafficking.

The blogosphere erupted with commentary on the issue.  Russell Moore posted on his blog:

When it is now impossible for one who holds to the catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church.  Just as the pre-constitutional Anglican and congregational churches required a license to preach in order to exclude Baptists, the new state church requires a “license” of embracing sexual liberation in all its forms.

Al Mohler posted wrote on his blog:

The Presidential Inaugural Committee and the White House have now declared historic, biblical Christianity to be out of bounds, casting it off the inaugural program as an embarrassment. By its newly articulated standard, any preacher who holds to the faith of the church for the last 2,000 years is persona non grata.

We now see the new Moral McCarthyism in its undisguised and unvarnished reality. If you are a Christian, get ready for the question you will now undoubtedly face: “Do you now or have you ever believed that homosexuality is a sin?” There is nowhere to hide.

Pastor Giglio’s withdrawal from the inauguration ceremony may seem like a small thing.  But small things are often symbols of where we are as a culture.  And this is no small thing.  Mohler and Moore (and otherslike them) are right.  What the Giglio withdrawal shows us is that biblical truth has been blacklisted.  Giglio’s comments in his 1990′s sermon were not hateful, spiteful, or intolerant.  Rather, they were a simple and clear exposition of biblical truth.  But the advocates of homosexual behavior don’t want to hear that truth.  We have now reached a point in our culture where the simple proclamation of Scripture carries public ridicule and censorship.

The Apostle Paul warned about this progression in Romans 1.  He says in Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  They suppress the truth because God has made it evident to them that the behavior they approve of and engage in is sinful and violates His law.  And what better way to suppress the truth than to suppress the truth-tellers.

Pastor Giglio faced public ridicule and scorn for simply proclaiming God’s truth.  His example stands as a warning call to all pastors.  The end-goal of the homosexual legal agenda is the silencing of all dissent; the suppression of the truth-tellers in our culture.  Now is not the time to shrink away from biblical truth.  Rather, when it is under attack, pastors as the men of God must run to the battle lines to proclaim even more strongly and winsomely the power of the Gospel.

Alliance Defending Freedom stands with you as you faithfully stand for biblical truth in today’s culture.  If you find your right to proclaim the truth of Scripture is threatened, please contact us so our attorneys can help.  Together, we are as our name proclaims –  an Alliance Defending Freedom.

 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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