Tag Archives: IRS

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?