October 06, 2012
1,400 US Pastors to Challenge IRS Non-profit Blackmail Tradition
Have you ever wondered why pastors in the US often seem to avoid discussing current political events? There has been one very strong reason, among others. A law passed in 1954 has basically been effective as a form of blackmail helping to keep pastors silent. The legal definition of blackmail does not necessarily involve the payment of money by the victim.
No matter what the initial intended purpose, the Johnson Amendment has helped to instill a sense of fear of regarding the discussion of any political issues around election time. The IRS retains the right to remove the non-profit status of any church which it determines has helped to support any particular candidate.
The creation of the Johnson Amendment in 1954 was self-serving, designed by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson himself specifically for the purpose of helping him to win an election by intimidation, essentially squelching political comments by conservative opponents who, guess what, tend to meet in churches.
Losing this non-profit status, of course, would deal a financial blow to a church because people would be less likely to give donations if they were not tax deductible. And this is why the political endorsement ban has basically been a form of blackmail. It is basically buying silence. I met a missionary from Germany who said they have complete freedom to discuss politics in the pulpit there in that country without reprisals. It could be that they learned some lessons from the Hitler episode. The US has not been afforded any such learning experiences. In any event, these pastors are willing to take such financial risks in order to follow what their conscience dictates, even if it is considered controversial. It would have perhaps been more effective for the pastors to start speaking about candidates at the primaries when Ron Paul was still a viable candidate. Unfortunately, both Obama and Romney seem quite comfortable in helping to maintain the entrenched corruption in the status quo US economic-political system. Read more about the challenge to political endorsement at this CNN link.
The core of the argument by the group Alliance Defending Freedom was summed up in this statement by Erik Stanly:
“[T]hey are simply applying Scripture and theological doctrine to the positions held by the candidates running for office,” he said. “Pastors have been applying scriptural teaching to circumstances facing their congregations for centuries. “This is not ‘political’ speech,” he said. “Rather, it’s core religious expression from a spiritual leader to his congregants. That kind of expression is at the very center of the freedom speech and religion protections in the First Amendment.”
A brief debate on the subject posted in the L.A. Times offers two contrasting views by Christians Erik Stanley and Barry W. Lynn. Erik Stanley is senior legal counsel and head of the Pulpit Initiative for the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and a longtime civil liberties attorney.
In the past, the IRS has not held a consistent and objective policy, but has activated waves of focused investigations:
“In 2004 the IRS created a dedicated enforcement program focused on political activity by churches and other nonprofits. Called the Political Activities Compliance Initiative (PACI), it investigated in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 election cycles 80 instances where church officials were alleged to have endorsed a candidate during services. According to IRS tallies made public after each election, the majority of the PACI complaints were upheld and settled with a warning that the organization comply with the ban on political activity. The IRS did not respond to Reuters questions about its enforcement activities in recent years, or explain why they seem to have ended abruptly in 2009.”
My opinion is that a Christian pastors should follow their conscience, whether or not non-profit status is retained. And Christians in general should tithe their income cheerfully as towards God, whether or not non-profit status is retained.
Tags: pulpit freedom Sunday, pastors versus IRS, blackmail of US pastors challenged, political endorsement ban challenged, pastors who follow their conscience not their treasury account, can US pastors talk about politics? IRS ban on church politics, ban on church political expression, politically correct church, why pastors fear IRS
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