Doesn’t the Bible say we are to disciple nations? Until a hundred years ago, our nations pastors did this through a variety of means including the annual “Election Sermon” which was given the Sunday before an election. The purpose was to shed the light of God on the affairs of man and keep our nation headed on a divine course. Things have changed. America is off course. Pastors are quiet, intimidated, threatened, muzzled by fears we’d lose our sacred 501c3 status.
Enter… PULPIT FREEDOM SUNDAY, September 28, 2008. I love this headline in last weeks Wall Street Journal… Pastors May Defy IRS Gag Rule.
A conservative legal-advocacy group is enlisting ministers to use their pulpits to preach about election candidates this September, defying a tax law that bars churches from engaging in politics. Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., nonprofit, is hoping at least one sermon will prompt the Internal Revenue Service to investigate, sparking a court battle that could get the tax provision declared unconstitutional. Alliance lawyers represent churches in disputes with the IRS over alleged partisan activity.
I thank God for my friend Gary McCaleb, Senior Counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund. Alliance Defense Fund exists to counter the dark influence of the ACLU and today is a massive and well-funded legal group solely focused on religious freedoms. I met Gary a few years ago here on the frontlines of the battle for the unborn in South Dakota. He came to our state to offer the full legal support of the ADF – at no charge to South Dakota pastors. On numerous occasions since I’ve run what I am doing here by Gary to see if I’m still “legal.” He gives me great counsel at no charge – tells me to call him on his cell phone – even on weekends he gets right back to me. The Alliance Defense Fund offers to pay the full legal expenses of any pastor who gets in trouble for being God’s voice to our culture.
Last week in DC I was excited to hear ADF is launching this “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” initiative. They are encouraging pastors all over America to exercise their First Amendment right to openly discuss the positions of political candidates and other moral and social issues from the pulpit. They hope to get some lawsuits rolling that will regain the pastors freedom to speak freely in America again. Here’s a bit more from ADF’s website or you might prefer to watch this video clip:
“Pastors have a right to speak about biblical values from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The government can’t demand that a church give up its right to tax-exempt status simply because the pastor exercises his First Amendment rights in the pulpit. Groups like Americans United intentionally trigger IRS investigations that will silence churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation.” Prior to 1954, churches were free to evaluate the positions of political candidates on moral issues without fear of the Internal Revenue Service revoking their tax-exempt status. That year, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the tax code to add the threat of IRS action against churches if their pastors mentioned the positions of specific candidates from the pulpit. Citing that rule, groups like AU have repeatedly threatened to report churches to the IRS if they speak out on such issues. Many tax-exempt organizations are permitted to evaluate candidates’ positions based on the values important to those groups. Organizations which are tax-exempt but do not have the same speech restrictions the IRS places on churches include civic leagues; labor, agricultural, or horticultural associations; business leagues; chambers of commerce; real estate boards; boards of trade; professional football leagues; clubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofit purposes; fraternal beneficiary societies; and cemeteries. “The intimidation of churches by leftist groups using the IRS has grown to a point that ADF has no choice but to respond,” said Stanley. “The number of threats being reported to ADF is growing because of the aggressive campaign to unlawfully silence the church. IRS rules don’t trump the Constitution, and the First Amendment certainly trumps the Johnson amendment.”
If we don’t use our freedom to defend our freedom we will lose our freedom. I’m excited about this. In fact, I’m going to have trouble restraining myself until September 28.