Freedom Sunday, held Oct. 2, is now over. This was the Sunday when 539 ministers throughout the United States defied the IRS and federal government and did at least three things in common in their Sunday sermons. They identified where the candidates stood on the issues, what the Bible says on these issues, and where a follower of Jesus Christ should stand. Their followers, of course, are left to make their own decisions, but the clergy is no longer silent. The following day they mailed a recorded copy of their sermon to the IRS; all the evidence that is needed to deny their 501C3 tax exemption status.
Standing by to defend three first amendment rights, that of freedom of speech, religion, and even assembly, is a group of 2500 attorneys united under the Alliance Defense Fund should the federal government wish to enforce the previously constitutionally uncontested Lyndon Baines Johnson Amendment initiated in 1954. Thirty-three pastors successfully did this in the year 2008, 84 in 2009, and 100 in 2010 with no retribution. In fact, no church’s tax exemption status has been taken away for having done so in the 57 years the amendment has been in place. Proponents encourage other ministers to follow their Pulpit Freedom Movement by going to www.speakupmovement.org or by phoning 1-800-telladf. Consider the over-the-pulpit political statements made by Martin Luther King, Jr., Jessie Jackson or even Jeremiah Wright.
The ministers argue that the Johnson Amendment which resulted in the tax exemption legislation known as 501C3, wherein tax exempt organizations cannot endorse or oppose candidates, was actually designed to deal with two businessmen in Texas who had used tax exempt money to oppose the future President Johnson, and that the legislation was never intended to be used on churches. Whether that is so or not, the IRS viewed it so and constantly threatens to apply it. The effect has been to “silence and chill the pastors.” At election time pastors frequently receive a letter reminding them that they can lose their 501C3 status should they make political statements as a pastor.
The movement demands a return to pre-1954 when there was no government censorship on the pulpits of America at all, whether left or right on the political spectrum—true separation of church and state. Both persuasions should have pulpit freedom.
Is this activity constitutional? Absolutely!! It is an American tradition. Many of the Founding Fathers were clergymen and used their pulpits before and after the American Revolution to foster a better understanding of liberty. The Constitution only denies the requirement of a religious test “as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.” The First Amendment also specifically denies Congress from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion.” Any attempt to muzzle the clergy is unconstitutional.
The urgency of the ministers picking up their traditional role as a conscience of the culture is critical for the saving of the culture. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltville, Maryland said it best. “In the next decade or so what America will be for the next few hundred years, I believe, will be decided.” Speaking directly to his clergy colleagues he continued, “Would you want to be someone who stood by and did nothing and had no voice in changing America for good, that lives through years of regret that you did nothing when you could have spoken out? Or, will you be someone, no matter how small your congregation is, or how large your congregation is, that will take up the challenge to follow Christ and endure momentary discomfort in trying to figure out how to articulate the message? That is a little price to pay for the benefit that we can bring to the entire culture.”
No pastor should fear the IRS. Clergy, it is your constitutional right and responsibility to speak boldly and clearly on any subject that you think important. If not you, who? If not now, when? Your government has muzzled you with fear and intimidation. Remember parishioners came to you for guidance. A good Shepherd will give it to them. Clergy who were unable to participate October 2, are invited to do so on another Sunday. Again, who will speak if the church is silent? After all, it’s about your liberty, please pass this along.