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IRS Apologizes: More Apologies Necessary

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

NYC City Council to Vote on Permitting Worship Services in Empty Public Schools

Posted on May 10th, 2013 Equal Access | No Comments »

UPDATE: The New York City Council passed a resolution Wednesday 38-11 in favor of requesting the state legislature to overturn the city’s public school policy of singling out worship services for exclusion from empty school buildings during non-school hours.

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Religious liberty will likely take a step forward May 22, when the New York City Council votes on a resolution asking the New York Legislature to overturn a state law that permits the New York City public school policy that bans private worship services in the vacant buildings when school is not in session.

This is the latest turn in the ongoing effort to repeal the New York City public school’s anti-worship service policy.  Alliance Defending Freedom’s lawsuit on behalf of NYC church Bronx Household of Faith is also challenging the policy in court.  Currently, churches and other religious groups are holding worship services in the schools because of a federal district court injunction against the policy issued in June 2012.  The City appealed the court order, and we are awaiting a ruling by the federal appeals court in New York City.

NYC Council member (and Pastor) Fernando Cabrera is trying to open another front against the policy by leading the effort to repeal the policy through the legislative process.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg directs the NYC Department of Education, and fully supports the policy banning private worship services from the schools.  The City Council lacks the authority to change the policy directly, but it does have the power to ask the state legislature to change the state statute that provides Mayor Bloomberg the legal authority to ban the religious activities.  These resolutions passed by the City Council carry significant weight at the state legislature in Albany, and usually spurs it to action.

Councilman Cabrera attempted to have the City Council pass this resolution in early 2012, but was blocked by the Speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn.  Speaker Quinn, who is running for mayor, has expressed support for the policy banning worship services.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Speaker Quinn’s tight control of the City Council has loosened in recent months because of her run for mayor.  The Wall Street Journal also reports that Councilman Cabrera sensed an opportunity to move the stalled resolution, and Speaker Quinn agreed to allow the resolution to come to a vote on May 22.

Councilman Cabrera expects the City Council to pass the resolution.  Whether the New York Legislature will pass the necessary legislation to overturn the New York City anti-worship service policy is unclear.  In early 2012, the New York Senate passed such legislation, only to see it die in the Assembly because the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, refused to allow the bill to come to a vote.  The Senate bill would have likely passed in the Assembly, because a majority of the Assembly’s members had signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.  Speaker Silver may respond differently to the proposed legislation and allow Assembly members to vote on it, if the legislation is in response to a resolution passed by the influential New York City Council.

New York City remains the only major school district in the United States that prohibits private religious services in public school buildings during non-school hours.  The churches and other religious groups meeting in the NYC schools help some of the poorest and neediest people in the city.  Whether by a court order, or a law passed by the New York Legislature, it is time for this policy to go.

Author

ADF Senior Vice President; Senior Counsel

Video: Major General Douglas Carver Tells Stories of Serving as a Chaplain

Posted on May 8th, 2013 Religious Freedom | 1 Comment »

Major General Douglas Carver, Retired U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, tells stories of individual people he came into contact with while serving.

Watch & Listen >> http://alln.cc/XNcYfS
Protect and promote the rights of our churches.

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Christian Equality Under Attack by UN Chief

Posted on May 1st, 2013 Religious Freedom | No Comments »

“Speaking via video link to the Oslo Conference on Human Rights on April 15, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that he is launching an international campaign to elevate the demands of sexually confused individuals over the rights of other individuals.”

Benjamin Bull’s column looks at the U.N. Secretary-General’s pledge to put the fight for special rights for some groups—sexually identified—over religious concerns. Read the entire post here.

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Same-Sex “Marriage” And The Church: What’s On The Horizon?

Posted on May 1st, 2013 Churches and Politics,Marriage | 4 Comments »

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

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