The IRS and Free Speech – Really?

In A Christian Life, Politics on September 29, 2008 at 5:28 PM

Why is it some people in this great country can say virtually anything they want while others seem to be required to place a bridle firmly in their jaws? Why can some sects of people in this nation spew venom, hate and death threats, while others are not even allowed to voice their opinions in regards to political matters? Why are pastors, who by their very calling are to lead their flocks in their walk with God, not allowed to give advice regarding political candidates?

I know many will say “because it’s the law.” That’s not what I asked, though. Let’s get down to brass tacks: why are some so afraid of allowing pastors to speak their minds? There are a few interesting articles at the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) which speak to this very issue. Basically, there is a 54-year-old federal tax law prohibiting religious leaders from exercising their constitutional rights regarding free speech while acting as pastors or heads of religious, tax-exempt organizations.

Guess who brought us the law that infringes on pastors’ constitutional free speech rights? If you guessed Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), you would have been correct. For information about what happened, you can look at the history of the amendment from Apparently, Senator Johnson didn’t want to adversely affect churches, but it still happened and now the IRS has put a stranglehold on the First Amendment.

According to, the Johnson Amendment was quietly inserted into the tax code in 1954; there was no legislative analysis or debate on the issue. Following is an excerpt from the article by Townhall writer Erik Stanley:

Most scholars recognize that the Johnson Amendment had nothing to do with churches. It was a cleverly designed bill to silence some nonprofit organizations who opposed Lyndon Johnson’s Senate campaign. But that hasn’t stopped activist groups from wielding the IRS weapon to silence churches across the country. The tax agency’s rule is unconstitutional because it muzzles free speech and improperly entangles the state in church affairs.

Please don’t give the ridiculously lame argument about separation of church and state (non-existent). According to David Barton’s WallBuilders site, Thomas Jefferson stressed the fact God, not government, is the source of our rights, and government had to be prevented from interfering with those rights. Two letters written by Jefferson, one to the Danbury Baptists and the other to Noah Webster, confirm his intent regarding his belief government should not interfere with God-given rights. Following is a portion of the WallBuilders article on the subject:

Jefferson believed that God, not government, was the Author and Source of our rights and that the government, therefore, was to be prevented from interference with those rights. Very simply, the “fence” of the Webster letter and the “wall” of the Danbury letter were not to limit religious activities in public; rather they were to limit the power of the government to prohibit or interfere with those expressions.

Pastors should have the right to help their flocks determine which candidate would best fit with their views. Thomas Jefferson knew how important it was for the government to stay out of the pulpit, but there are many today who want to control free speech by hiding behind tax code that should never have been put in place to begin with.

How do you see it?

  1. Your fundamental premise is flawed. Pastors are allowed to say whatever they want. They cannot, however, maintain the tax-qualified status of their churches and continue to give their congregations a tax write-off for their donations if they cross the line into political action.

    Churches benefit greatly from the ability to get government subsidies in the form of tax deductions. For a church’s richest members, the U.S. government pays for 36% of their giving to the church in the form of a charitable tax deduction. Once the church crosses the line into politicking, the government (and the taxpayers) shouldn’t have to subsidize the church anymore.

    To put it a different way, you probably don’t want your tax dollars to be used to subsidize giving to So why do you think that it’s fair for tax dollars to be used to subsidize churches and pastors that effectively act as a campaign committee for a particular candidate?

  2. Brent, thank you for dropping by and giving your view of the subject. You are always welcome here. Thank you for framing your thoughts in such a logical and well-thought manner.

    I am curious, though, which sources I referenced you have issues with. Pastors were allowed to use free speech in order to speak about which candidate to support until 1954. My question is simply, what happened then which made the government (Senator Johnson) feel the need to bridle pastors voices?

    Would you have the government send someone into churches across this great land of ours each day services are held in order to dictate the message each pastor preaches? I am not convinced our founding fathers had that in mind when they framed our constitution.

    Brent, again, thanks for dropping by. Come again as often as you want, and bring people with you.

  3. The law doesn’t just apply to pastors and, in fact, it’s my understanding that it wasn’t even written with churches in mind. Churches are not the only 503(c) entities that can give their donors tax deductions. They are, however, the only entities that think that they have the right to use their tax-free donations to engage in explict candidate endorsements.

    The argument that the IRS restrictions on politicking by 503(c) organizations is unconstitutional is simply not supported by any existing Constitutional precedent. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has drawn a very clear line between restricting contitutional rights (which is not allowed) and requiring voluntary restrictions or waivers of constitutional rights in order to obtain a benefit (which is allowed).

    Truth be told, I don’t think that the law makes a lot of sense anway because it doesn’t really restrict political endorsements in any reasonably way. Not saying the candidate’s name doesn’t really disguise a pastor’s endorsement of a candidate, or, for that matter, the endorsement of a candidate by Planned Parenthood.

    Do I want someone going into churches monitoring the speech of pastors to decide whether to take away their 503(c) status? No, that would be a waste of resources, but not unconstitutional. On the other hand, I don’t think that my tax dollars should subsidize someone else’s political activities.

    Of course, turnabout is fair play. Do you think that the government should go into people’s homes and dictate what movies they can watch, or what magazines they can read, or what websites they can visit? I don’t, and I don’t that that’s what the framers of the constitution had in mind either. But there are a whole lot of churches and religious leaders that are trying to do that every day.

  4. Of course, turnabout is fair play. Do you think that the government should go into people’s homes and dictate what movies they can watch, or what magazines they can read, or what websites they can visit? I don’t, and I don’t that that’s what the framers of the constitution had in mind either. But there are a whole lot of churches and religious leaders that are trying to do that every day.

    I don’t know a single pastor who advocates allowing the government going into people’s homes in order to dictate how citizens should conduct their lives. I certainly agree with your statement about the framers of the constitution.

    We obviously don’t agree on this subject; I do not, nor have I ever endorsed a particular candidate from the pulpit, but believe that right has been granted by the constitution; it’s that ridiculous Johnson Amendment that has unnecessarily bridled leaders’ views from being spoken. While researching today, I found there was some legislation being considered repealing the amendment in question. I, along with scores of others, would love to see it repealed.

  5. I think we should leave church to the worship of God and teaching of the Bible. If we instill biblical principles and if we teach people to really seek God’s opinion on the matter, then God’s will will be done. I don’t really see the need for pastors to say who they’re voting for. Too many people vote a particular way because that’s who their party says to vote for or that’s who someone else votes for without any real understanding of what they’re voting for or against. We should teach people to know what they believe and make their determination based on their relationship with God. Frankly I’d be scared of what a lot of pastors will guilt trip their congregations in to doing (i.e. Jeremiah Wright, David Koresh, etc.)

  6. I agree with you, Doc. My main contention is the fact Uncle Sam dictates what can be said in the pulpits, and that is not what the framers of the constitution had in mind. Just because a person is free to do something, doesn’t mean that thing will happen.

    As I mentioned in a comment, I have never told people whom they should vote for, and do a very good job of keeping politics out of the pulpit the Lord has so graciously asked me to fill. By bridling the men you mentioned in your last paragraph, you are also bridling those men and women of God who, led by the Spirit of God, could very well do a great job in helping their people come to a better understanding of the issues and candidate who would best encompass the values needed to move the country in the right direction.

    I believe we’re basically on the same page, just different paragraphs. Doc, I always respect your opinions. Thanks.

  7. I’m with Ron on this one. The churches are basically asked to show up and vote, but keep quite about their political opinions. If the pastor dares to open his mouth in support of a particular candidate, he has to be careful to make sure the IRS knows he is doing it personally and it can’t be done from the pulpit. In my opinion, this is just one more good reason for the Fair Tax to be implemented. It would make this a moot point and help our country at the same time.

  8. Thanks, Larry. I’m sure it’s not easy walking the line between security and people’s rights, but it must be done. If the reference I mentioned regarding then Senator Lyndon Johnson’s motives for the amendment are true, then we certainly need to repeal it. Even if it wasn’t intended for him to get an unfair advantage over his competition, I still believe the law should be repealed.

    It’s as the law says, “you can preach, but only what we think you should.” Do you think the Apostle Paul or Peter would have obeyed the directives? Understand, I am not advocating breaking any laws, but we should not be told what to preach in our pulpits WITHIN REASON. If I were spewing out hate and threatening lives, I would expect someone to call me to task.

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