Politicking Preachers in the Pulpit
If you went to church this morning there is a small chance that besides the good word you also got a political sermon from your preacher.
Thirty-three preachers across the country are a part of campaign called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. It was organized by an Arizona based group called Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) which is headed by a group of Christian lawyers who work for socially conservative causes.
The Pulpit Freedom Campaign was organized to challenge a 54 year old law that prohibits religious organizations and nonprofit groups that accept tax-deductible contributions from endorsing specific candidates. The group thinks the law is unconstitutional and inhibits churches from expressing their first amendment right for freedom of speech.
“This is something we’ve committed the resources to,” said ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley. “What we want to do is have a reasonable constitutional addressing of the issues. For 54 years, the Internal Revenue Service has studiously avoided any court confrontation over their ability to regulate a pastor’s sermon.”
Senior legal council to ADF Erik Stanley cites through American history church pastors have been able endorse or oppose political candidates. “Churches were free to endorse or oppose candidates and they did so. The record shows they exercised that right responsibly,” Stanley said. It stopped with the 1954 Johnson Amendment.
Many have pointed out that although American churches aren’t allowed to endorse political candidates it doesn’t prevent them from speaking out on social issues. Civil rights leader and minister Reverend Martin Luther King often spoke from the pulpit about equal rights for African Americans along with the country’s involvement in the Vietnam war and union issues.
Not all ministers agree with ADF’s stance. Reverend Eric Williams of the United Church of Christ in Columbus Ohio is opposed to group’s stance. He feels that the law is there to help protect the free speech of churches.
“This wall protects citizens from the hurricanes of religious extremism,” Rev. Williams writes in the Columbus Dispatch. “It is the fencerow that encourages us to be caring neighbors; it is the mile marker erected by the Founders to guide faithful patriots in each new generation, who seek and secure for everyone our unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” ”
Reverend Williams told the Wall Street Journal, “If there are churches of any stripe that are breaking this tax code, the IRS should investigate. And that should include UCC churches.”
Which is exactly the type of fight that the ADF is looking for. The 33 pastors who participate today will send copies of their sermons to the IRS.