WFA partner, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), [last] week announced the results of a LifeWay Research poll showing 91 percent of Protestant pastors wanting the ability to speak freely from the pulpit without a chill from government. Moreover, more than 7 in 10 of the pastors wanted Congress to ensure the IRS is not empowered to punish churches based on the content of sermons.
This research buttresses efforts to lift the free speech burden of the infamous “Johnson Amendment,” named for then-Senate Democratic Leader (later to become President) Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas) who authored the 1954 provision to stop Section 501(c)(3) organizations from “intervening” in political campaigns. That language has since been interpreted to bar ministers and nonprofit leaders from making political statements at their organizations’ functions or in their publications. In addition to being constitutionally suspect, this rule has been vaguely and inconsistently applied by the IRS, resulting in a chilling effect.
ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb says, “Churches and their pastors have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves what they want to say or not say. This poll demonstrates that religious leaders don’t want to be burdened by the continual threat of an IRS investigation and potential penalties based simply on what they say from the pulpit.”
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