The IRS warned pastors attending a faith leader’s summit in Washington D.C. recently not to speak from their pulpits about candidates or elections. As reported by OneNewsNow, IRS official Peter Lorenzetti attended the summit and told pastors that prohibited activities include anything that supports or opposes a candidate for public office. Mr. Lorenzetti’s statements are not surprising or even noteworthy given the fact that IRS officials have been interpreting the Johnson Amendment in this way since its addition to the tax code in 1954. So why should we be concerned about these statements?
Well, for starters, Mr. Lorenzetti’s statements follow a long pattern by the IRS of intimidating pastors and churches into silence on the issues surrounding candidates and elections. The Johnson Amendment operates as a direct restriction on the speech of pastors and churches. There is no denying this fact. And there is no denying the fact that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional. It is never permissible to allow a government agency the power to punish a church for something its pastor says from the pulpit. Where did America’s churches ever get the idea that it was okay to invite IRS officials into the process of sermon preparation and allow them to wield the power of censorship over what your pastor says from the pulpit? Such a regime is not okay, and indeed, it is unconstitutional.
That’s why ADF started Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008 – to restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit and to remove the pen of censorship from the hand of government officials. Because we believe that the Constitution protects the right of a pastor to speak freely from the pulpit and that government should hold no sway over a pastor’s sermon preparation or delivery. It is for every pastor and church to decide for themselves what is said from their own pulpit.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is October 7, 2012. If you are a pastor, please sign up to participate to exercise your constitutional rights on that day together with hundreds of other pastors from across the country. If the IRS wants to continue to enforce the Johnson Amendment against pastors and churches, then it will continue to take a sustained and united effort to remind the IRS of the constitutional rights of pastors and churches. If you are not a pastor, please send every pastor you know to www.pulpitfreedom.org to learn more and to sign up to participate on October 7, 2012.