On October 5, ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom–a 2,000 attorney strong organization) will conduct its seventh annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” initiative. Begun in 2008, the “Pulpit Freedom” initiative encourages pastors to speak freely and forcefully, from their pulpit, regarding the political issues of the day–including qualifications for political leadership, the Scriptures teaching on such volatile issues as marriage and life, etc.–and to do so without fear of the Internal Revenue Service.
The IRS limitations on “free speech” from the pulpit began in 1952, with the passing of the Johnson Amendment, an amendment to the IRS Tax Code. The “Johnson” Amendment is so called because it was the brain child of then Texas senator Lyndon Johnson, who narrowly won reelection that year. Johnson attributed his opponent’s success (and his narrow win) to a couple of Texas preachers who actively engaged in political activity. Determined to stop that kind of thing in the future, Johnson went back to DC, after his hard-fought victory, and worked tirelessly to get his pulpit-changing amendment added to the tax code.
Since 1952, the Johnson Amendment has stymied and stifled the speech of America’s preachers for fear that their church would lose it’s precious tax-exempt status. However, in 2008, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” was launched by ADF, resulting in 500 pastors “defying” the IRS tax code (not the constitution or law of the land) and pledging to preach boldly on topics often deemed “political.” Since 2008, the number of pastoral participants has steadily grown to almost 2,000 registered participants this year!
It must be clearly stated that there has never been any successful litigation (actually no litigation period) brought against ANY pastor who chose to declare God’s truth in defiance of the “Johnson Amendment.” However, this year that may well change.
Earlier this year, the IRS settled a 2009 lawsuit brought by FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation) against the IRS, in which the Internal Revenue Service pledged, in return for FFRF dropping the suit, to pursue churches and pastors who actively politic from the pulpit, especially those who participate in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
So, the battle lines have been drawn. The only question that remains is, “Who will win this free speech war–the liberty-limiting, intrusive, overreaching IRS, or liberty-loving, outspoken, God-honoring, truth-seeking preachers?” As my dear friend Pastor Bud Jernigan says, “Every Sunday is Pulpit Freedom Sunday!” In all actuality, he is exactly right on two fronts! As does Alliance Defending Freedom, I believe the First Amendment of the United States Constitution trumps the IRS’s “Johnson Amendment”, hence granting the preachers of America to right to speak freely on ANY topic! Above that, we have a scriptural mandate to speak God’s truth, no matter how “politically incorrect” that truth may be! Peter and John said it best, when clearly told NOT to speak, “We ought to obey God, rather than men!” When stated in those terms, there really is no choice to be made!
To learn more about the annual “Pulpit Freedom Initiative”, go to pulpitfreedom.org.
President, HOPE Ministries International
President, North Carolina Pastors Network (NCPN)