Will Church Speech Be Regulated?
Will Church Speech Be Regulated?
Written By Nathan Cherry   |   09.05.13

A new report by the Evangelicals Council for Financial Accountability says that the government’s attempts to regulate the political involvement and speech of 501(c)(3) groups, particularly churches, is ineffective. A combination of factors, such as the vagueness of laws, inconsistent application of the law, and the fact that current IRS code infringes on the free speech rights of both individuals and churches leads many to believe the law needs to change.

Many pastors are familiar with the 1954 Johnson Amendment which attempts to remove the voice of pastors and churches from all things political. This unconstitutional amendment was inserted into the IRS code with the promise that all non-profits groups, especially churches, will lose their tax exempt license for engaging in “political speech.” The question is often asked, “What constitutes political speech?” To which most government officials clear their throat and quickly change the subject.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the Johnson Amendment is clearly a violation of the constitutional free speech rights of pastor’s and their churches, many have been threatened into silence. The result is an America where pastors, the men once on the forefront of cultural education according to biblical principles, have been replaced by movie stars, rappers, and Planned Parenthood. The effects are obvious.

The report argued: “The IRS will not (and should not) enforce the prohibition in such faith communities en masse.”

Current political climate against speech deemed politically incorrect is more hostile than ever. While the government likes to claim “free speech” for people bashing Christians and the God of Christians, that same government is almost actively pursuing civil rights charges against speech bashing Islam, race, and sexual orientation. The bias against the right of Christians to speak freely according to their faith is undeniable.

Just in case someone wanted to try and deny that Christians are being pursued for speaking according to their faith, consider a recent case involving both America and Africa. An American pastor, Scott Lively, is being sued for “crimes against humanity” by a homosexual rights group in Uganda for speaking out against the homosexual lifestyle while he was in Uganda.

A federal judge has allowed the charges to be brought despite the fact that the United States has rejected the international treaty, Alien Tort Statute, which would provide the only legitimate recourse for the group. The reason this is serious is because if the case continues to go forward it threatens the free speech rights of American citizens under the First Amendment and opens U.S. citizens up to lawsuits from international groups and individuals. A recent article writes:

“…[T]he ruling from Judge Michael Ponser in a case brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda against Pastor Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries could mean much more. It could establish that an international consensus disavowing long-held biblical standards could trump the U.S. Constitution. SMUG alleges Lively must be punished for criticizing homosexuality, calling his speech a ‘crime against humanity’ in violation of ‘international law.’ The plaintiffs allege that the Alien Tort Statute in the United States allows them to make the charge in the U.S. Lively’s attorney, Horatio Mihet of Liberty Counsel, said his client’s preaching is protected by the Constitution.”

Stories like this have the negative effect intended upon many pastors which ultimately causes silence. Fearing retribution from the government, riot’s in their communities, and other unintended consequences many pastors are simply choosing to keep silent on “controversial issues” like homosexuality and abortion. The problem of course is that this goes against the example of Jesus. Jesus showed grace to every person He encountered, but He also showed truth and refused to back down from it.

The bottom line is that pastors and churches need to be more involved in preaching and teaching on these issues. Surely we can’t sit back and let Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson speak for us pretending to speak for the “evangelical” majority. We have truth on our side and need to share it often with a culture that desperately needs truth and grace. A church with the right statements in its Constitution and By-Laws can be legally protected from abusive lawsuits. Documents such as “7 Things Every Church Should Have in Their Constitution and By-Laws,” developed by Alliance Defending Freedom are excellent defenses against legal attacks.

I suppose we could all “quit America” and seek an island in the middle of the ocean for refuge. At least one family tired of government over-reach decided to do just that. And while it sounds nice, it doesn’t help our neighbors or communities when Christians armed with truth cut and run.

Jesus told us that in the last days these “perilous times” would come. It’s not a surprise. How we handle these times is of utmost importance and must be decided before we are faced with trying circumstances. Stand strong. Speak boldly. Offer truth and grace.

This article first appeared at the Engage Family Minute blog. You can see the original article HERE.  

Nathan Cherry
Nathan Cherry is the chief editor and blogger for the Engage Family Minute blog, the official blog of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia. He serves also as the...
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