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As readers of this blog know, ADF has conducted Pulpit Freedom Sunday since 2008.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a legal project designed to restore a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.  The government, by applying the Johnson Amendment to churches and pastors, has been mandating that certain content in a pastor’s sermon is off-limits and can result in penalties against the church.  ADF launched Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008 to challenge the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment.  We believe that it is unconstitutional for the government to attempt in any way to censor a pastor’s sermon.

In 2008, Alliance Defending Freedom conducted the first Pulpit Freedom Sunday on September 28. Starting with 33 pastors from 22 states in 2008, Pulpit Freedom Sunday participation has grown steadily to a high of 1621 participants in 2012. These pastors made their sermons public.  They were not preaching secretly or trying to “get away” with something.  Rather, these pastors sincerely want to regain their right to speak freely during their sermons without having to wonder or fear if a government agency is going to punish the church because of something the pastor said from the pulpit.

It has been over six years since Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2008.  Yet the IRS has remained silent.  No pastor has been punished or threatened with punishment by the IRS for participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  I’ve speculated before about the reasons why the IRS has remained silent.  But, in reality, the reasons are unimportant.  What is important is that the IRS has said nothing and done nothing in response to Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

We cannot let up and must continue to march forward to regain a pastor’s right to speak without the presence of the government in the pulpit.  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is coming up on October 5, 2014.  Please, if you are a pastor, sign up to participate this year in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.  And if you are not a pastor, then send every pastor you know a link to our website at www.pulpitfreedom.org.  All the information any pastor needs to become aware of the issues and to sign up to participate is on the website.  We must continue our efforts to get the government out of the pulpits of America.  Will you stand together with us and hundreds of other pastors this October?

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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Recently, a federal judge in Wisconsin declared unconstitutional the minister’s housing allowance that has been in the tax code for well over 100 years.  This decision is on hold while it is appealed, and Alliance Defending Freedom and our allies are helping defend the constitutionality of the housing allowance.

The district court judge who struck down the housing allowance was appointed by a President, who was elected by the people and confirmed by United States Senators, who were likewise elected.  The ruling brings into sharp focus the truth that elections have consequences.

America’s pastors know all too well the impact on themselves and their families if the housing allowance were struck down for good.  One pastor, in an earlier case challenging the minister’s housing allowance, told his personal story of pastoring a small church in central California.  The church was in a financially depressed area of town with a high unemployment rate that was hit hard by the national recession.  The church of 40 was struggling to get by and needed a pastor.  A housing allowance was the only form of compensation that this church could offer to secure a pastor and this pastor graciously agreed to serve this small, needy population, receiving only a housing allowance as compensation.

If you’re a pastor of a small church, you can probably identify with this story.  Listen to what pastors said when they were asked what impact the removal of the housing allowance would have on them, their families, and their ministries:

  • “The removal of the clergy housing allowance would hamper a pastor’s ability to serve the poor, the weak and the forgotten; we serve where others do not serve or where others refuse to serve.  We alleviate the suffering of the people in our community and we relieve the government of much social work it would have to provide if we pastors were not here in poor communities.  Don’t cripple the healers.”

- Pastor Bill Devlin, Infinity Bible Church, The South Bronx, New York City

  • “If the minister’s housing allowance exemption is struck down it would be catastrophic, and I would no longer be able to provide for my family and continue in the ministry as I do now.”

 - Father Josiah Trenham, St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside, California.

  • “It is shortsighted of the court to know that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 churches in America of which 50% are less than 80 members who are working with the poor, the needy, the hungry and the broken; yet the United States judiciary has effectively said, ‘Let the pastors do it with even less resource at their disposal.’”

- Pastor Kevin Baird, Legacy Church, Charleston, South Carolina

  •  “In losing my ministerial housing allowance, due to the increased tax burden it’s quite likely that I’d be forced to re-enter the secular workforce (where I worked the 1st 8 yrs. of this church’s history) where my focus and attention on tending to the spiritual needs of this fellowship would be greatly diminished.”

- Pastor Andy Fine, Calvary Chapel, Farmington, New Mexico

  • “The tax advantages that our country affords the ministry are similar to the military, both protect our country (spiritually and physically).  Taking away those advantages would make it harder financially for those called to protect our great nation.”

                        - Pastor Gus Booth, Warroad Community Church, Warroad, Minnesota

  •  “A loss of the minister’s housing allowance would add a great burden to small churches which can hardly afford to support their pastors with a fair salary.”

- Dr. Darryl DelHousaye, President of Phoenix Seminary

 

The potential loss of the minister’s housing allowance is just one example of the need for America’s pastors to give Biblical guidance on the vital issue of the election of leaders who set our national policy – because that policy has consequences for America’s churches.

Pastor, commit to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 5, 2014.  Your flock needs to hear from you on the vital decisions they’ll make at the polls.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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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

557078_10151023030167653_1960289070_nSome time ago, I pondered the question, “Do 84% of Pastors believe the Pulpit Initiative is a bad idea?”  The reflection was due to a  survey conducted in 2011 of 1,000 protestant pastors by Lifeway Research that asked pastors whether they agreed with the statement, ”I believe pastors should endorse candidates for public office from the pulpit.”  The survey reported that 84% of the surveyed pastors disagreed that a pastor should endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Some bloggers picked up the results and trumpeted them, arguing that they proved that the Pulpit Initiative was wrong and that Alliance Defending Freedom should just give up and agree that it was on the wrong side of public opinion.

I responded to the research (and the critics of the Pulpit Initiative) by stating that Lifeway had asked the wrong question.  The Pulpit Initiative was never intended to answer the question whether a pastor should or should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit.  Rather, it was intended to answer the question of who should make that decision for churches.  Should the government make that decision for churches or should churches make that decision for themselves depending on their own church doctrine and beliefs?

I am happy to report that Lifeway Research conducted another poll of 1,000 pastors and asked the right question.  They asked the pastors whether they agreed with the statement that “The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church’s tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church’s moral beliefs or theology.”  86% of pastors disagreed with the statement.  That is almost 9 out of 10 pastors who disagreed with the idea that government should be allowed to regulate the content of a pastor’s sermon.  That’s good news.

In the end, the constitutional liberties of pastors and churches are not subject to polls and popular debate.  But the poll results are interesting and demonstrate that pastors “get it.”  They understand that it is not the job of the government to review the content of a pastor’s sermon to determine whether it violates some restriction and is worthy of punishment.  The very idea that some government official can determine whether to mete out punishment to a church based solely on what a pastor says from the pulpit is repugnant and offensive to these pastors.

And, in the end, that is the only question Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to answer.  The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is intended to stop the government from acting as the “orthodoxy police.”  As the Supreme Court stated way back in 1943, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in … religion.”

Pastor, if you have not signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 5, 2014, please sign up today.  Become part of the solution and stand with hundreds of other pastors across the country who are reclaiming their ability to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.

Please share your comments below and to join the conversation join our Facebook page.

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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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

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