Churches Challenge IRS: Ban on Discussing Politics Unconstitutional
Oct. 7 was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when thousands of pastors organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) discuss the upcoming election and endorse political candidates.
Doubtless many of you are thinking to yourself, “That’s illegal—churches can’t endorse candidates.” You are correct that such endorsements violate a federal statute. However, that statute is almost certainly unconstitutional.
Lyndon B. Johnson was an extreme liberal, both as a U.S. senator and later as president. Through legislation, executive action, and judicial appointments, LBJ ranks just shy of Barack Obama in how far to the left he pushed the United States.
When serving in the Senate on July 2, 1954, Johnson pushed through the Johnson Amendment on the Senate floor without any committee hearings or discussion, making it illegal for nonprofit tax-deductible entities to speak in any manner intended to influence an election.
As ADF—a Christian legal organization that fights for the unborn, marriage, parental rights, and religious liberty—explains at its Pulpit Freedom website, this broke almost 200 years of practice where American pastors could freely speak on their understanding of how biblical principles applied to major issues facing the country, and which candidates for office those pastors believed did a better job of adhering to Christian principles in their proposed government actions. Video messages from leaders such as Pastor Jim Garlow and ADF’s lead lawyer on this project, Erik Stanley, walk visitors through the history of this issue and the specifics of ADF’s plan to combat this silencing of churches.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the ability of churches—including pastors and lay Christians—and adherents of other faiths—to freely live out their faith through participating in the political process. And the Supreme Court has made it clear for more than a century—most recently in 2010 in Citizens United v. FEC, that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment guarantees that citizens can speak as freely through a corporate entity (such as a church) as they can individually about political and social issues.
So now over 1,000 churches are challenging the Internal Revenue Service, by recording their political sermons on Oct. 7’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and sending them to the IRS with a declaration that they believe the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional, and inviting the IRS to try to penalize them so that these churches can take the matter to court.
This is a fascinating form of civil disobedience. Although churches are quick to obey the biblical command in Romans 13:1 (among many other verses) to submit to authority, these pastors also understand that in this country the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, and that any federal statute violating the Constitution is not the law and lacks any authority.
The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to provoke the IRS into taking the matter to court, where either at the outset or later on appeal, the Johnson Amendment will very likely be struck down in what would be a historic case—or so many churches would openly defy the Johnson Amendment that houses of worship nationwide would come to realize that there is no real threat of being penalized for speaking out on applying biblical principles to choosing our nation’s leaders.
The past four years have seen unprecedented attacks on religious liberty, and now churches are starting to wake up to the seriousness of this danger and reclaim their historic role in Western Civilization as being “salt and light” in society to declare truth with boldness and with love. Now the ball is in the Obama administration’s court, and we’ll see how they respond.
Breitbart News legal contributor Ken Klukowski is director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council.