Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Should Pastors Talk About Politics?

This Sunday (October 7, 2012) is Pulpit Freedom Sunday – a day that many pastors plan to talk boldly about politics, elections and candidates – and possibly risk losing their IRS tax exemption.

According to SpeakUpMovement.org, nearly 1,500 pastors from across America are speaking up this weekend in protest of the Johnson Amendment.

The law, passed in 1954, has made it illegal for churches, as non-profit tax-exempt organizations,  to…

“Participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office.”

Pulpit Freedom SundayThe organizers of Pulpit Freedom Sunday say that pastors have a constitutional right to speak on whatever issue they care to – including politics – no matter their position in a church.

They also believe there should be no government intrusion into the pulpit to limit what pastors say.

As a pastor, I’ve known for years about this law prohibiting churches and other tax-exempt organizations to  endorse candidates, but I’d never heard of it’s official name until now, or understood how the law came to be.

You know, I always figured it was all about that so-called “Separation of Church and State.”

But was I surprised to learn of its origins!

According to Rev. Jim Garlow, lead pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, California, the so-called Johnson Amendment was added to the tax code by Democrat Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who had become personally upset at two nonprofit organizations who were opposed to his candidacy in 1954 because they felt he was soft on communism.

The Johnson Amendment was basically a backroom attempt by then Senator Johnson to quiet two 0rganizations he didn’t like. And like most things that happen in Washington, his law had far-reaching implications that went well beyond what was originally intended.

Interestingly, no committees took the time to analyze the Johnson Amendment, and no discussion was held. There was just a voice vote. And the amendment passed.

Since 1954, most pastors avoid talking about candidates and political issues, thanks to the Johnson Amendment, because they don’t want their church to lose its tax exempt status if it is seen as being political.

However, organizers of Pulpit Freedom Sunday say the amendment pastors and churches need to be concerned about is not the Johnson Amendment, but the First Amendment.

Because the First Amendment famously guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

That’s why this weekend, pastors are encouraged to talk openly about politics, issues, and candidates from the pulpit, record what they say onto DVD, then send a copy of the recording to the IRS.

Organizers of Pulpit Freedom Sunday say they hope the IRS takes action against the pastors.  This, in turn, would cause the pastors to file suit against the IRS in an attempt to have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional once and for all.

Isn’t it interesting, and sad, that a personal vendetta by a U.S. Senator against two nonprofit organizations he didn’t like has, for 50 years now, kept some pastors and churches silent about certain moral issues for fear of becoming “political.”

What do you think?  Should pastors feel free to preach about politics from the pulpit?

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About the author

Rich Rich writes on personal finance from a pastor's perspective here at Money Wise Pastor. He loves In-N-Out Burger (and has the t-shirts to prove it), urban living, homeschooling, Gungor concerts, helping people succeed in life and work, camping, dreaming with his wife, and equipping his five children to become financially faithful and free. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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