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PFSblogObjections2

When talking about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I generally get two basic objections to the concept of Pulpit Freedom.  Yet these objections in some way are either misguided or just flat out wrong. I’ll discuss the second today:

    Pastors can favor or oppose candidates – they should just give up their tax exempt status if they want to do so.

Some have argued the Johnson Amendment, contained in 501(c)(3) of the tax code, is a good idea because it prevents tax-exempt charitable organizations from engaging in election activity.  In reality, though, there are 29 categories of organizations considered exempt from federal income taxes under section 501(c) of the tax code.  Yet only organizations that fall within section 501(c)(3) are subject to the speech restriction of the Johnson Amendment.  All of the other categories receive the benefit of exemption from income taxes and can endorse or oppose political candidates if they so choose.  Why?

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are only subject to this restriction because, while he was a United States Senator, Lyndon B. Johnson inserted this amendment into section 501(c)(3) in 1954 as a way of silencing two secular non-profit organizations that were opposing his reelection.  The amendment to section 501(c)(3) was not a reasoned approach – it was a revenge-motivated bill by a powerful senator bent on silencing his political opponents.

Additionally, tax exemption is not a matter of legislative grace for churches.  It is a constitutionally protected right.  The Supreme Court stated as far back as 1819 that the power to tax involves the power to destroy and that there is no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion than to begin to tax it.

The Johnson Amendment forces upon churches an unconstitutional choice:  surrender your constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion, or lose your tax exemption.  Clearly, though, the government is not allowed to condition tax exemption (which is something to which churches are constitutionally entitled) on the surrender of a constitutionally protected right.

To understand just how ridiculous this actually is, imagine a law that conditioned receipt of a tax exemption on a church giving up its constitutionally protected right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure, or giving up its right against self-incrimination, or requiring a church to quarter troops in its pews if it receives a tax exemption.  That would be absurd.  Why then do we tolerate allowing the government to condition a tax exemption on a church giving up its precious rights protected by the First Amendment?

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is designed to protect a simple, but fundamental idea – that pastors have a right to speak freely from their pulpits and not be subject to government censorship or threat of punishment when they do so.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is simply about pulpit freedom– no more, no less.  Because it is not the “free exercise of religion” in any meaningful sense of that phrase if the government is allowed to punish a pastor for something he says from the pulpit.

We want every pastor to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year which will be held the weekend of October 5, 2014.

Read part 1: Pastors and Politics, here.

Have you heard this objection before? What other objections have you heard (or have) to Pulpit Freedom Sunday? Let us know in the comments below.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

PFSBlogObjections1

Every time I mention Pulpit Freedom Sunday, I generally get two basic objections to the concept of Pulpit Freedom.  Yet these objections in some way are either misguided or just flat out wrong. I’ll discuss the first today:

  1. Pastors should not preach politics from the pulpit

This is a common objection to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, since an election sermon obviously involves the realm of politics.

The main problem with this objection is that the definition of “political” keeps changing.  Thirty years ago, a pastor could preach a sermon from Scripture that marriage was between one man and one woman and no one would have been concerned or would have even thought to complain to the IRS that the Church was violating the Johnson Amendment in the tax code by speaking politically.  Yet today, if a pastor were to stand in the pulpit and preach a sermon that says marriage is between one man and one woman, that sermon would be instantly deemed “political.”

Some of this is, of course, a function of the culture war over fundamental issues such as the definition of marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious freedom.  As these issues are fought in the public square, they frequently become politicized by a culture that increasingly turns to the government to demand answers to these most fundamental questions.  Yet a pervasively darker consequence of these fundamental cultural conflicts is that the Church is frequently told that when culture deems an issue “political,” it somehow becomes off-limits for the Church to address without someone screaming that the Church has violated the Johnson Amendment and is endangering its tax-exempt status.

Ultimately, when people say that pastors should not preach about politics, they are making a theological argument.  No one can deny that Scripture has direct application to all of life, including the realm of politics.  What they really mean is that Scripture should not be specifically applied to the election or to the positions held by candidates or their parties.  That is, at base, a theological argument that Pulpit Freedom Sunday is not designed to address.  Rather, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is designed to answer the question of who gets to make that decision for churches.  Should it be the government or each individual church?

You see, when we allow the government to make that decision for churches, we are ceding control of what is God’s to “Caesar.”  That is a role the government is specifically prohibited from playing.  Even if people disagree over whether a pastor should preach an election sermon, everyone should at least agree that the decision should be left to the individual church and pastor to make.  We set a dangerous precedent when we allow the government to choose sides and pick a winner in an ongoing theological debate.  That’s not the free exercise of religion.

Read part two, Common Objections to Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Tax Exempt Status, next week.

We want every pastor to sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014.  Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, October 5, 2014.

Have you heard this objection before? What other objections have you heard (or have) to Pulpit Freedom Sunday? Let us know in the comments below. 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

image001

Is your church afraid of the IRS?  I’m not talking about a healthy fear of following the law to avoid the unpleasant consequences of a deserved tax audit.  Instead, I’m talking about a certain level of paranoia that leads to second-guessing  or avoiding actions in your church.  Some churches resort to censoring their own activities out of paranoia over what the IRS might do.  First Amendment lawyers call this a “chill on speech,” because it involves self-censorship to avoid the reach of an overbroad or vague law.

One church in North Carolina recently experienced this chilling effect, although they handled the situation well.  Tabor City Baptist Church puts out a newsletter, and in the most recent edition, printed an invitation for its members to come to a luncheon featuring a candidate for state representative.  Immediately, church members questioned whether the church had violated IRS regulations.  The issue even made it on the local media who came to interview the pastor.  Pastor Bruce Schimdt didn’t back down. He responded to the media, stating: “We are not giving an endorsement as a church, which we’re prohibited to do as a tax exempt organization. But we feel like it’s very very important to give acknowledgement and encourage people to pray and do their civic duty and step up and be involved in the political process… We are honored to pray for and acknowledge our leaders, Democrat or Republican.”

Here’s the point:  under the tax code, this church did nothing wrong.  They made an opportunity available to one candidate that they would also give to any other candidate.  The church’s actions do not violate the tax code and they shouldn’t fear the IRS breathing down their necks with an audit.  Yet, despite the fact that the church did not violate the law, questions were raised by members, the media came calling, and the issue went public.  I am sure the general stress level among the church staff and the membership also rose considerably.  And the overall message was that churches should just stay away from this area because it is simply too dangerous.

Situations like this are precisely why Alliance Defending Freedom created Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  No pastor or church should fear the IRS when they use their faith to engage candidates in an election.  The vagueness of the IRS regulations on churches leads to a very real chill on a church’s speech and activities.  It’s time to remove that chill and allow churches to engage the political realm with their faith without fearing retaliation or punishment by the government.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday aims to do just that – to have the Johnson Amendment in the tax code declared unconstitutional so that pastors and churches don’t have to fear the IRS.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an opportunity for pastors to preach sermons about the election or about the candidates running for office in light of Biblical truth.  If you are a pastor, will you consider signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  if you are not a pastor, please tell your pastor about Pulpit Freedom Sunday and encourage him to sign up to participate.  Pastors have a right to speak freely on the issue of elections and candidates and should never fear government punishment for shining the light of their faith in this area of life.

 

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Image: Hawaii News Now

Late last year, two atheists in Hawaii sued several churches who were renting public school facilities for Sunday services.  The atheists filed suit under the State’s False Claims Act, which gives an insider the chance to blow the whistle on  fraud, expose it, recover the money for the State, and then keep a percentage of the money for themselves. The atheists alleged that the churches underreported the amount of time they were using the school facilities and thus underpaid for that use, to the tune of more than $15 million in damages to the State over the last 6 years.

Alliance Defending Freedom represents two of the churches. We asked the judge to throw out the lawsuit, and thankfully, the Judge agreed and dismissed the case.  While she did give the atheists the chance to refile their lawsuit if they believed they could sufficiently show fraud, the dismissal order means that the lawsuit they filed against the churches is over – a great victory for the Hawaii churches.

However, the lawsuit should never have been brought in the first place.  A typical False Claims Act lawsuit is brought by someone working for a company who stumbles across documents that show the company is purposefully defrauding the government.  The federal False Claims Act was first passed during the Civil War when the federal government became aware of widespread fraud among government contractors providing supplies for the Union troops.  Apparently, paying $500.00 for a hammer was going on even back then.

But the False Claims Act was never intended for situations like this.  The Hawaii churches committed no fraud.  The schools they rented from set the rental rates and unlocked the school to give them access to it.  To say that the schools had no idea how long the churches were using the school facilities is laughable.

The atheists in this case admitted that they brought their lawsuit after hearing about Alliance Defending Freedom’s Bronx Household of Faith case where ADF is fighting against an unconstitutional New York City School Board policy prohibiting churches from using school facilities.  The Hawaii atheists liked the New York School Board policy and thought up this lawsuit to accomplish the same thing in Hawaii; denying churches the right to use public schools. But the dismissal is a setback in their radical efforts to remove churches from Hawaii’s public schools.

The churches have been good for the schools; they use the facilities at times when they usually sit empty, and the rent the churches pay goes into a fund to improve school facilities, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hawaii schools.

 In short, the Hawaii churches have done here what churches have always done – benefit their communities in numerous ways.  They should be applauded for their efforts, not forced to defend an ideologically motivated, baseless lawsuit.

The atheists may refile their lawsuit.  But if they do, we will defend the churches from these baseless attacks.

Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend churches and to ensure that the Church remains free to proclaim the Gospel message and to minister freely.  If your church needs legal assistance, please contact us today so one of our attorneys can review your situation.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

Riot Police in Egypt, one of the nations listed as violating human rights

Riot police in Egypt, one of the nations listed as violating human rights.

By Emily Conley

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) celebrated its 65th anniversary on December 10th. To mark the occasion, the Vice Chairwoman and a Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote a review of how those countries who signed, and those who abstained, score on upholding Human Rights sixty-five years later.

From Europe to the Middle East, the human right of freedom of religion for 75% of the world’s population is trampled on, even from those who agreed to the Declaration.

Why should we care how religious minorities are treated in other countries? The writers respond:

“Human rights abuses and their consequences spill beyond national borders, darkening prospects for harmony and stability across the globe. Freedom of religion or belief, as well as other human rights, are essential to peace and security. They are everyone’s business.”

They give a chilling warning:

“Indeed, study after study confirms that countries that do not protect freedom of conscience produce strife and instability, including terrorism.

The United States and the entire world community have an enormous stake in upholding the UDHR’s human rights principles — including religious freedom. On this Human Rights Day, it is time to reaffirm the declaration by holding its signatories accountable.”

We would do well to learn from the rest of the world.

The United States has a long tradition of upholding the human rights of its citizens, but we are seeing our freedoms rapidly erode. The government has flatly refused business owners like the Hahns and Greens of  Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby, Elaine and Jon Huguenin of Elane Photography, cake baker Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers, Jim and Mary O’Reilly of WildFlower Inn, and many, many others their freedom to run their business according to their conscience. Students have been expelled, professors dismissed, professionals fired, and doctors sued over their religious convictions.

While these cases may pale in comparison to the violence described in the article than people around the world face, it should still be cause for our grave concern.

Read the entire article, “Human Rights Day: Still Pursuing Religious Freedom.”  And stay informed about current threats to the freedom of conscience.

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