Tag Archives: Free speech

I am Glad That People Love Christmas

It isn’t uncommon to hear Christians deplore the fact that so many people who clearly have no idea what Christmas is about busily decorate with Christmas ornaments and buy Christmas gifts and dine at Christmas parties and feasts all through the month of December. “They don’t have a clue what Christmas is about,” Christians wail, wringing their hands.

I am starting to ask, “Why don’t they have a clue what Christmas is about?” We decorate and buy gifts and feast, too. With all these Christians celebrating all over the place, why don’t people in general know what Christmas is about? Is their ignorance the real problem, or is it something else?

I believe it is something else.

I believe that Christians are too focused on the way nonbelievers get Christmas wrong. Christians deplore the commercialism that starts advertising Christmas gifts by the first of October. Christians despair of the frenzy of parties and choirs and plays and charity events during a season of prayerful waiting in the church calendar. Some Christians are upset because cashiers won’t say “Merry Christmas, while others are upset that the retail window displays blend Santa Claus and the baby Jesus.

There is another way to look at this situation.

Think about the culture into which Jesus was born. In that culture there were people faithfully waiting for Messiah, there were people who suffered in hopeless despair that Messiah would ever come, and there were people who scorned the whole idea of a Messiah. There were people who had unflappable faith that God always keeps his promises, and there were people who thought that believing in God was the attitude of a simpleton.

The time and place where Christ was born was just like the times and places in which we all live. With that in mind, I am glad that every December, America lights up like a Christmas tree. I’m glad that the phrase Christmas tree has found its way into the language in standalone usage. I’m glad that in the classic secular poem of the holiday season, Santa Claus says, “Merry Christmas to all!” I’m glad, because even though the language and culture pervert the Christmas story, the fact that Christians set up nativity scenes and sing “Silent Night” during this season keeps pointing to the Christmas story, the real story of Christmas. The cultural folderol does not crush the truth that Christ was born to bring God’s salvation and grace to every person on earth.

I have been known to rant a bit about the silliness of some of the “holiday” customs. I rant about silliness wherever I see it. I enjoy poking fun at all sorts of nonsensical excuses for meaningless festivity. However, I don’t think that the abuse of the opportunity for celebration at Christmas is necessarily a bad thing.

Jesus addressed the issue of misuse of blessings when he said, “[God] makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God does not prevent evil people from receiving the blessing of rain. He lets them enjoy rain and grow crops watered by rain the same way he blesses his faithful children. Likewise, at Christmas, even in the midst of tinsel and baubles, you will also see the star over Bethlehem and the manger with the baby Jesus. Because the images of the birth of Jesus are so widespread at this time of year, we who love the Lord have many, many opportunities to tell people about him. We even get to talk about Jesus when the Freedom From Religion Foundation sues yet another municipality or homeowners association for allowing a public display of a nativity scene. We don’t have all those opportunities every day.

We should thank God for every instance of Christ’s name or his story in public life. If the people talking about it, we should thank God for the opportunity to discuss the story with them, and tell the story correctly. If people are confused, it gives us a chance to speak the truth.

I am very glad that Christmas is a very big deal in the USA in December. I am quite sure that Christians in Kazakhstan, where people can be arrested for carrying a Bible in a shopping bag on a public bus, would love to have the problem of too much glitz about Christmas in Kazakhstan. I can well imagine that Christians in Pakistan, who must be extremely cautious about their behavior during Ramadan, would love to need to explain to fellow Pakistanis which elements in a storefront Christmas display were Christian and which were secular. These Christians know what it is to be silenced by laws and regulations that are prohibited in the USA by our First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion. Let us give thanks for free speech, even when the speech we hear is repulsive, because free speech is our guarantee that we can say “Jesus is Lord!” fearlessly on any occasion when we feel led by the Spirit to speak out. Let us give thanks even for confused and error-filled Christmas displays that allow us as Christians many opportunities to talk about the real story of Jesus.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 ESV). At Christmas, in the midst of the frenzy, when you feel frustrated that people just do not understand what Christmas is all about, be glad. Let the Holy Spirit give you the words to share Jesus with everyone, because it is his season and his time. It is our open door to testify to Christ. We will not likely see the immediate response we hope for in those who hear us speak, but that is not our business. Our business is to share Jesus fearlessly and consistently. I am thankful that, because people love Christmas, I have a chance to introduce them to the love of Christ.

 

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Speaking of Morality

Speaking of Morality

If you enrolled in a class with the title, “English Grammatical Issues in the Twenty-first Century,” you would expect to discuss the fine points of English grammar at the cutting edge of decision-making. You would assume that no time would be spent memorizing parts of speech, because knowing those basic elements of the language would be the barest foundation for discussing the way the language is changing daily. You would likely expect the teacher to promote discussion of the reasons to embrace or reject changes that litter the landscape of daily usage in conversation. You probably would not find it odd if you and your teacher had differences about the way certain changes ought to be handled now and in the future. By leaping into the fray between those who tie themselves in knots trying to avoid using the masculine pronoun when gender is indefinite and those who simply fall into the usage of third person plural for everything, you know that you are in a conversation where people disagree. Yet you would expect to have the conversation and to include every possible nuance of difference over the issue.

A dispute over the right grammatical solution to a cultural problem can be contentious, but even those who advocate that real grammarians ignore the nonsensical attitude of the culture will recognize that the discussion does have more than one side. It would be shocking if a college professor shut down the discussion of one side in order not to offend the advocates for the other side.

Recently, a student enrolled in a class titled “Theory of Ethics,” where he fully expected that classroom discussion would often involve at least two points of view, perhaps more. However, he was completely baffled when the subject of gay rights came up, and the teacher chose not to discuss that subject. The discussion centered on the application of philosophical theories to modern political controversies. At the beginning of the discussion, there was a list of modern controversies on the blackboard: gay rights, gun rights, and the death penalty. The student reported that after discussing gun rights and the death penalty, the teacher erased “gay rights” from the blackboard and said, “We all agree on this.”

The student was disturbed about the refusal to discuss gay rights, and after class, he asked the teacher why she refused to open that discussion. When she responded with her point of view, he explained why he disagreed. Then she asked him if he knew of any homosexuals in the class. This question is ridiculous, because it implies that it makes sense for the student to know such a thing about the people in a group around him. The student did not know one way or the other. At this point, the teacher proceeded to explain that she did not think it was proper to discuss gay rights in the class, because someone in the class might be homosexual and take offense at some points of view. The student was dumbfounded. This teacher asserted that in a college level class on the subject of ethics, it was inappropriate to discuss the various points of view surrounding the contemporary issue of gay rights, because it was possible that someone in the class would be offended by the views that might be expressed in such a discussion.

The student attempted to assert a right as a citizen to hold an opinion in opposition to the opinion of other citizens. The teacher said, “You can have whatever opinions you want but I will tell you right now – in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments will not be tolerated,” she said. ‘If you don’t like it, you are more than free to drop this class.” In those words, the teacher asserted that the expression of an opinion in opposition to gay marriage or gay adoption or anything else that is on the agenda of LGBTQ activism constitutes a homophobic comment.

People who express themselves on the subject of homosexuality are frequently called “homophobes.” Even pastors who claim to be Christian have been known to use that word when referring to people who understand the Bible to teach that homosexual behavior is sin. Still, it is shocking to discover that a college professor will not permit discussion of one of the thorny issues of contemporary culture in a class whose title invites exactly that discussion.

It is important to note here that the student who had every right to express his view in the cultural conversation about gay rights did something execrable. He recorded the conversation without telling the professor what he was doing. The student was upset, and he must have suspected what the teacher would say. He apparently turned on his phone as he approached the teacher but did not tell her what he was doing. It does not speak well of the character of someone who would do such a thing. We all feel rightly outraged when we hear that somebody could be spying on our phone conversations or our reading our emails without permission. Likewise, we all feel that we have a right to keep private conversations private. It is not hard to imagine why the student felt that he wanted a record of this conversation, but his concerns do not justify his duplicity. Readers who might have believed he was on the moral high ground in standing strong for biblical teaching about homosexuality will be disturbed and disappointed to read that he made a secret recording of the conversation.

This situation points up the truth that honor and integrity are tough standards. It is hard for any of us to do the right thing in every case. Sometimes we truly cannot sort out the conflicting issues and see what is right. In other cases, we talk ourselves into believing that the wrong we face justifies the wrong we do in self-defense. Nobody can read this student’s mind or search his heart, but he has tainted his testimony for Christ by doing something that demonstrates a lack of integrity. The old saying, “Two wrongs do not make a right,” applies here. It was wrong for the professor to refuse to discuss the ethical issue of gay rights over a fear that someone in the class would be offended, but it was equally wrong for the student to record the conversation without telling the teacher what he was doing.

Some who read this post will wonder why I make such a big deal of the recording. I make a big deal of it, because it plays into the hands of LGBTQ activism for a Christian who takes a moral stand against their agenda to do something that is also immoral, not to mention illegal. It is very hard to be a Christian in today’s culture. The secular view of Christians is that they are harmless when they are inside their worship buildings reading their dusty old Bible and singing stodgy hymns to their imaginary friend in the sky. Secularists do not care what Christians do inside their buildings. It is when we come outside and act on our rights and responsibilities as citizens to speak for high moral standards that the LGBTQ activists take umbrage. That is the place where we must be light and salt as Jesus taught us, and when someone does something such as secretly recording a private conversation, then we undercut our standing to speak of morality.

The men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had high regard for the value of religious teaching in a society. In their view, the church was a valuable force in the culture for morality and integrity. They wanted the church to speak and act in the civic debate over any and all issues. In fact, by forbidding the existence of a state church, they hoped to avoid the inevitable pollution of the church’s moral standing by political involvement. They wanted citizens to bring the moral substance of their religious teaching with them into public life to add weight and perspective to civil debate.

If Christians could give their testimonies without the weight of sinful human nature constantly at work in their lives, then it would be simpler. This situation with the student is a real example of the complications that arise when sinful human nature acts with the context of very real outrage at the behavior of a college professor, one person in our culture whom we all expect to uphold the value of free and open discussion. The college professor’s attitude is suspect. The student’s behavior is suspect. It is hard to make a clear statement on the moral issues active in the story. It would certainly be a simpler matter if the student had not complicated the discussion by introducing a distracting issue.

Christians must be vigilant with themselves. Christians who want to participate in the public dialogue on complex social issues must not complicate the discussion by bringing personal baggage into the mix. Christians who want to be leaders in the social discussions must not muddy the waters by introducing issues that give their opponents justification for outrage of their own.

It is a call to a high standard, but then Christ calls Christians to a high standard: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 None of us ever will be that perfect, of course. We can only presume to speak a testimony if our testimony confesses our need for grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless, when we make choices in our lives, we must keep in mind that we have a high calling always to testify to the truth as revealed in Christ, and our behavior must not blemish that testimony or give occasion to anyone to ignore the truth of our words. We are called by God to these discussions. We must respect that calling by living lives of integrity that add weight to our comments rather than distract people from God’s truth.

Free Speech? Of Course. Suppress Only Wrong-Headed Speech

 

People have freedom of expression, blah blah blah, but until we make those people pay for their wrongheaded beliefs, they’ll continue to hold them. Tony Woodlief at Patheos

It has not always been the case that someone expressing a viewpoint with roots in Christian teaching was accused of discrimination. It has not always been the case that someone expressing a viewpoint different from the majority was accused of discrimination. The new wrinkle in the culture is that someone expressing the majority viewpoint, Christian or not, is accused of discrimination. The really new wrinkle is that someone who supports a viewpoint validated in millennia of human history is accused of discrimination.

This is what is happening to people who support the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

 Something more mind-boggling could hardly be imagined.

The concept of marriage as the union of a man and a woman has never been questioned throughout human history till now. In fact, except for dictionary devotees, the specification that the parties to a marriage will be a man and a woman has not needed to be discussed. It has not been a uniquely Christian idea that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Archeology and paleontology alike demonstrate that humans have always viewed marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and humans have always considered marriage to be the foundation for a family. Only recently has it become necessary to argue about what constitutes a marriage or a family.

What happened to the culture?

Human society has many ongoing arguments. Who ought to be in charge, and how ought a group of people figure out who should be in charge? What is worth fighting about? What is a fair fight? There are a lot of arguments that are not yet settled. But the definition of marriage and family were settled so far back that except for the revelation of the creation story in Genesis, nobody would know how marriage began. The record of human life on earth shows that marriage has been the normal basis for family in all human groups, almost as if it were written on the human heart.

That fact meant that until very recently, anyone who used the word marriage did not need to define it or qualify it. The word itself was sufficient to convey the intended meaning. It also meant that until very recently, nobody would have had any reason to write laws about the language used for marriage or sexual orientation or gender identity. The issue of sexual orientation was settled by the recognition that normal human beings are attracted to the opposite gender, and the gender of a normal human being is the gender of the DNA (of which there are only two options – male or female). All other expressions of gender, sexual orientation or sexual union were abnormal simply because they were not normal. It wasn’t discrimination to recognize that fact; it was plain common sense. It still is. Unfortunately, plain common sense does not seem to be valued very much in the language of marriage, family, gender identity or sexual orientation.

The fact that a marriage was expressed as a union of a man and a woman throughout human society meant that when religions used this definition, it was not regarded as privilege, oppression or discrimination. It was considered normal. Any other definition would have been regarded as bizarre and would have resulted in ostracism of its practitioners for engaging in behavior equivalent to wearing aluminum foil hats.

Where do Christians get their definition of marriage?

Christians use this definition of marriage for the same reason as humankind at large; it is normal. However, when the definition is challenged, as is common in contemporary cultural disputes, Christians actually have a basis for defending their contention that it is normal. They don’t rely on the fact that people have used this definition for thousands, perhaps millions, of years. They rely on the revelation of the Creator, God Himself. The Bible records that God created humans male and female and ordained marriage as their proper relationship. God further ordained that they produce children within that relationship and nurture them to adulthood, each generation teaching the next the things they needed to know in order to have good lives – God’s truths, skills for daily living, and so forth. Human failing and wicked acts have not changed God’s truth: marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

What justifies suppression of anybody’s speech?

Which brings the subject back to freedom of speech. The culture is busily attempting to suppress the freedom to speak of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Someone recently said that the culture war is necessary in order to make speaking of heterosexual marriage as unacceptable as suggesting that slavery is good. To that end, the army of LGBT activism persuaded Mozilla to fire a man whose only crime was to express his legitimate view on the definition of marriage. To that end, JP Morgan quizzed its employees to determine who is and who isn’t an ally of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. To that end, the Department of Justice demanded that employees not only tolerate homosexual colleagues but also express their delight at the opportunity to support their lifestyle choices. Freedom of speech necessarily requires the culture to permit people of all viewpoints to express their viewpoints. There must not be penalties for expressing minority viewpoints. There must not be penalties for expressing majority viewpoints.

Yes, the majority must be free to speak of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Because most American citizens, the majority of the population, holds the traditional view of marriage, those citizens must be just as free to express and act on their definition of marriage as the minority, a very tiny minority, who want marriage to include homosexual union, polyamory and bestiality. The US Constitution protects the right of a man to donate money to a political action group that promotes traditional marriage. Marriage. The only marriage that is marriage. The Constitution says that people have a right to their opinions and a right to express their opinions and a right to advocate for legislation in keeping with their opinions.

To have an opinion at odds with the latest Twitter hashtag campaign ought not to be grounds for dismissal from a job or for exclusion from the cultural conversation. Tony Woodlief points out that the culture wants the dissenting opinions on the subject of marriage, or any other subject in fashion at the moment, to be gone. Snuffed out. Squashed. Shut down. The only real way to defeat that objective is to be tireless in support of one’s viewpoint and be willing to pay the price the opponents will impose. Woodlief is right. Those who never give up their unwanted opinions will be made to pay, because the opposition will continue to exact the price. Those who support normality and common sense must be willing to pay in order to continue to hold their views.

What should we do?

The opposition says, “People have freedom of expression, blah blah blah, but until we make those people pay for their wrongheaded beliefs, they’ll continue to hold them.” We who love the Lord and trust the Bible for guidance in faith and life say, “People have freedom of expression, because God gave people this right, and we will advocate for the preservation of that right for as long as it takes.”

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2014/08/the-new-truth-squashes-dissent/#ixzz3AN3PIF4h

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2014/08/the-new-truth-squashes-dissent/#ixzz3AN3PIF4h

What is a Christian to Do?

Statistics show that religious liberty around the world is a precious and endangered human right. Statistics further show that in the set of all acts of religious persecution, the majority of such acts are directed against Christians. Saddest of all, statistics for recent years in the US show a rising number of events which may not meet the legal standard to be called persecution, but they are the sort of events that can easily escalate to that level. It is clear that Christians must be alert and attentive to cultural pressures that influence governmental pressures on human liberty. In fact, it is possible for pressure to restrict a right not specifically limited to religious liberty to seriously infringe on religious liberty.

In a recent blog post, Matthew Clark provided some important perspective on an IRS plan to monitor speech in churches. The IRS has announced that it will collaborate with the Freedom From Religion Foundation in a manner not yet publicly disclosed. The purpose will be to determine if a church is advocating a position on a political issue, whether it be in the realm of social morality such as abortion or in the realm of elections such as support for a candidate who stands for traditional marriage.

The US Constitution specifically prohibits the federal government from engaging in such a practice, because the Constitution protects both free speech and religious liberty. Every citizen, whether or not he is a member of a church, whether or not he is a pastor of a church, has the fundamental human right to hold and express his views on all matters. However, as Ronald Reagan pointed out years ago, we are never more than one generation from tyranny, because each generation must defend liberty as if the battle had never been won before. The IRS proposal to monitor what is said in churches specifically intrudes on freedom of speech, but by imposing such monitoring on churches, it also intrudes on religious liberty, because such monitoring makes it clear that the IRS believes it can and must prevent churches from promoting their views by teaching members to act on positions that are being discussed in political circles. It is as if the IRS is saying that churches have no right to speak on any moral issue if the public is talking about it. Since the people who founded the USA have always regarded the churches as integral to the moral fiber of the nation, it is hard to imagine how the IRS concluded that churches should be prevented from speaking on any issue.

What is a Christian to do about this information? How does God want us to live and behave when our deeply held convictions are threatened in this manner?

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, the seat of government for the Roman Empire, a government that was corrupt and tyrannical in many ways. He told them, “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:2 Many people in the USA certainly believe that this country was founded by people who trusted God and followed his guidance. The Constitution of the USA sets a standard for government that has been copied all over the world, and many people believe that God inspired the design of government in the Constitution. It builds in structures that impede tyranny as long as the citizens and the elected officials live by God’s moral code. The authors of the Constitution conceded from the beginning that only people with personal integrity could make this government work. It was always understood that the integrity of the voters and the integrity of elected officials was crucial to the success of the designed government. When the integrity was missing, the liberties would die. Yet, even though Paul knew how corrupt and tyrannical Roman government was, he taught early Christians to be good citizens. He modelled that citizenship in his own life, taking his case to the emperor, his right as a Roman citizen, in order to obey his higher calling to take the name of Christ to Gentiles.

Peter likewise admonished Christians to be good citizens, saying that governors “are sent by [God] to punish those who do wrong and commend those who do right.” 1 Peter 2:14 Peter, too, advocated good citizenship as a testimony to Christ. He taught that “doing good” would “silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15 However, this is the same Peter who, ordered to stop preaching in the name of Christ, replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20 In Peter’s life there is a model for obedience to authority, right up to the point where that obedience conflicts with obedience to God.

This is the conflict being addressed in the book of Revelation, written to churches under serious threat because of the unwillingness of Christians to worship the emperor. They were viewed as traitors for this attitude, because while Peter taught that Christians should pray for the emperor, he never tried to tell Christians they should pray to the emperor. Roman citizens who were not ignorant of the depravity of Roman emperors often worshiped tongue in cheek in order to be politically correct. They thought Christians were silly for balking at a public ritual. Christians were ridiculed then for their conviction that they must worship and obey God, just as they are ridiculed now for the same reason. In Revelation, Christians are encouraged to hold fast to their testimony, no matter the price, and the book is full of promised rewards for “him who overcomes.” To overcome in Revelation is to overcome the temptation to go along to get along.

What is a Christian in the USA to do when government intrudes into the words and deeds of churches? The Bible teaches good citizenship and faithful testimony to Christ.

As good citizens, Christians have both the right and the responsibility to use the powers of citizenship, speech and the vote, to push back against tyranny. To act as a responsible citizen in advocacy for the God-given rights protected by the Constitution is not a benefit solely for Christians; it benefits every citizen. Christians may be the target today, but tomorrow it could be some other group. Therefore, when Christians recognize that the government is trying to diminish or destroy rights protected in the design of the government, they have the obligation as citizens to prevent that overreach of government.

In faithful testimony to Christ, Christians must not accede to government overreach and go silent on matters of public morality and good government. They must speak on the subjects of God’s plan for families, God’s sovereignty in the gift of life, and God’s insistence on truth and integrity in human words and deeds. Inside churches or outside of churches, Christians must stand on biblical principles and speak God’s truth.

At the same time, both as a duty of good citizenship and as a duty of faithful testimony, Christians must uphold the government and all the officials of government in prayer. Christians must ask for God’s guidance in their own words and deeds as parties to conflicts between the government and the citizens.

It is not always easy to know the right thing to do. Some of the social problems facing the culture are so complex that human wisdom is inadequate to the task of solving them, but none of those problems is beyond God’s understanding or concern.

The fact that the IRS even explores the notion of monitoring the speech of churches with a view to suppressing speech deemed as political is an affront to the First Amendment. The fact that the IRS even explores the notion of monitoring any speech whatsoever is an affront to the First Amendment. God-fearing men wrote that amendment because they believed that the freedom to hold and express opinions is God-given, not something for government to dole out.

What do you suggest Christians do?

The IRS Wants to Remove Freedom of Speech from Churches

In 1789, when the US Constitution took effect, the First Congress already had been assigned a job. During ratification, the states took cognizance of human nature and insisted on a Bill of Rights. The Framers of the Constitution all assumed that powers not given to the federal government in the Constitution remained with the states and with the people, but across the country, people recognized that some things needed to be more clearly stated. Many could envision a situation in which a rogue president or judiciary or even a rogue Congress might assume powers that were not intended. The first job of the new Congress was to pass a series of amendments which had been demanded by various states as conditions for ratification.

People who love liberty easily recognize the First Amendment to the Constitution as the most important of all. A nation in which people cannot speak freely, a nation that forbid citizens to choose, change or reject religion at will or a nation where the press is compelled to print the government line is not a free nation. History shows that even with written guarantees of these freedoms, the natural human desire to control other people makes it essential for the people to have recourse to a limit on government power to control speech, religion and the press.

Today, right now, this minute, these freedoms are under assault by a federal government that has lost its way. Almost anyone could name some incidents that represent threats to these freedoms, but recent news makes it obvious that a truly potent and dangerous threat to both freedom of speech and free exercise of religion is underway. In recent news it has been made known that the IRS is being encouraged to pay more attention to what pastors say from the pulpits of churches.

Pastors who feel that their call is to serve Christ, not the IRS, will respond to such scrutiny by saying that Christ compels a pastor, or any other Christian, to teach people what the Bible says. If the Bible teaches something in conflict with popular ethical trends, the pastor who obeys God, not people, will speak of this problem. If an election is imminent, and pastor wants to help his parishioners know which candidates have committed to biblical teaching and which have not, that pastor will speak.

Astonished Christians who always thought that freedom of speech and freedom of religion were fundamental truths of life in the USA will find it quite disconcerting to discover that the IRS is even contemplating any infringement on those freedoms. It all came about because of a lawsuit by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. In 2012 the FFRF sued the IRS for alleged failure to monitor speech in churches. The lawsuit revealed that no process existed for such monitoring, even though according to the FFRF, such monitoring is required by the Johnson Amendment (1954) to the tax code. That amendment made it an infraction of federal law for a 501(C) 3 organization to endorse a candidate during an election. The FFRF alleged that when pastors encouraged their members in churches to vote for specific candidates or to support specific political issues such as right-to-life, the churches were in violation of the law. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and the IRS subsequently teamed up with FFRF to devise a plan to monitor political speech in churches.

The title of this post properly should be “The FFRF Wants to Remove Freedom of Speech from Churches.” Over the years since 1954, the IRS chose not to attempt to find out what was said from the pulpits of churches. This policy assumed that unless someone complained, there was nothing to find out. Only under pressure that arose because of the FFRF lawsuit did the IRS even contemplate monitoring the speech of pastors in churches. It should be noted that churches are not required to apply for 501(C) 3 status in order to be tax exempt. The very fact that a church is a church makes it tax exempt according to the federal tax code. However, some churches do apply for that classification for a variety of reasons not relevant to this post. The Johnson Amendment does not affect those that do not apply for 501(C) 3 classification.

The crux of the matter is whether the Johnson Amendment truly prevents a pastor from endorsing a political candidate. The real question is whether any law can trump the First Amendment right to free speech. Maybe a better way to ask the question is to ask, what compelling government interest is so compelling that the government could muzzle a citizen who wanted to participate in the public discussion of candidates or political/ethical issues? Why would it make any difference whether the citizen spoke from the pulpit or on a television show or on a street corner?

The Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that when a pastor endorses a political candidate or endorses a view on a political issue while speaking from the pulpit of a tax-exempt church, he is engaging in prohibited speech. The 1954 Johnson amendment says that a 501C3 organization is “prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”(quoted at Wikipedia from Irs.gov. 2012-08-14) A thinking person must ask how Congress even presumed to pass such a law. Citizens do not lose their citizenship by joining a non-profit organization. The First Amendment is a guarantee of freedom for citizens, and it actually prohibits Congress from prohibiting free speech. How did anyone persuade any member of Congress to vote for the Johnson amendment?

Some voices say that churches should be safe from scrutiny if they choose not to file for 501C3 status. Nothing really guarantees that safety, of course, and nothing actually prevents Congress from passing a broader law in the same spirit as the Johnson Amendment. Citizens who contend that the intent of the First Amendment is to protect the freedom of every citizen at all times to engage in public discussion of candidates and issues find the Johnson Amendment to be an unconstitutional limitation on free speech. The amendment has never been challenged in court, but perhaps it should be. On what basis? On the basis that a citizen does not abdicate his right to free speech by speaking from a pulpit or within the confines of any other non-profit corporation.

Some Christians will find it troubling to think that they might hear a sermon on Sunday advocating that they vote for a particular candidate. They might feel that sermons about political candidates are inconsistent with their definition of preaching and worship. This is an entirely different question. If members of a church hire a pastor to preach and they are not satisfied with his work, they are free to hire someone else. It is no business of the IRS to tell them whether to keep their pastors or not. How they choose pastors, retain pastors, and dismiss pastors is completely within the domain of church rule and processes. This author does not advocate that churches require or forbid their pastors to preach on politics. This author believes each church must manage that decision according to its own policies.

However, this author does read the First Amendment as declaring that the government has no right to forbid pastors to preach about politics. This is because the First Amendment gives every citizen the right to speak on politics, religion, personal values, and misconceptions about what science has proved, among other things. If the church members want the pastor to help them understand how biblical teaching is to be applied in their understanding of contemporary political issues, then the government needs to leave the church and the pastor alone. The application of biblical teaching is a legitimate function of Christian preaching. The discussion of political candidates and issues is a legitimate activity of a citizen. The First Amendment clearly states that people have the right to have opinions on these matters and to express their opinions to whoever will listen.

This author believes that no citizen should be denied free speech just because he or she is speaking in the context of any tax-exempt organization. This author believes that the First Amendment forbids the federal government from controlling speech anywhere, including within the boundaries, physical or organizational, of non-profit organization of any kind. If the First Amendment means that citizens have the right to speak, then the Johnson amendment is actually unconstitutional.

The freedom to speak truth everywhere at all times is precious. The freedom to vote requires the freedom to speak of candidates and issues that are subject to the vote. Suppression of such speech is completely inconsistent with a free society.

Freedom to speak, to have opinions, and to make choices is precious. People have died for the lack of it. The government has no legitimate reason to stifle free speech anywhere, especially not in churches where truth is an honored and treasured commodity. Especially not anywhere. The bar for justification of the suppression of free speech should be higher than any normal person’s head. It ought to take extraordinary effort to justify such a thing.

What do you think?