Last Sunday was Pulpit Freedom Sunday (every Sunday should actually be that). Because of that I wanted to share the video above which highlights a speech given by Dr. Jim Garlow , senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, CA, at the Under God Indivisible Conference in Arlington, Texas back in July. In it he explains that the Johnson Amendment passed on July 2, 1954 with a voice vote and no discussion placed restrictions on the speech of just 501(c)3 organizations which includes churches. Then Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) sought to restrict the criticism leveled at him by two businessmen in his state who started non-profits during his previous campaign.
This started the misconception that government, in particular the IRS, has any control over what is said in the pulpit.
Dr. Garlow stated, “We did not receive tax exemption as churches because we made a swap saying we would not speak on political issues. The churches are tax exempt because our founding fathers knew that there should be a complete separation – the right definition of the separation of church and state. And what the federal government can tax, it can control and it can kill. Therefore there was to never be any tax on the churches, they were tax-exempt – totally free.”
He said this had a chilling effect on pastors because attorneys and even the IRS are not even certain how to define the Johnson amendment. He said this isn’t the first speech restriction that has ever been placed on the church. He said the first on the church was “all the way back in the early pages of the Book of Acts when they (the Sanhedrin – the Jewish governing assembly) told Peter and John ‘do not speak of Jesus.’ The way Peter and John handled that speech restriction then is how every pastor should handle any speech restriction now.”
Peter and John, the Book of Acts records responded to his by saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than God you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard,” (Acts 4:19-20, ESV).
In short – there should be no government intrusions into our pulpits. Period. Almost 1600 pastors participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday last Sunday to send that message to the IRS. Pastors and churches have lived in fear of this amendment, but to this day it has not been enforced. Why? Because it’s unconstitutional, and would likely be struck down by the Supreme Court if ever brought to court. There are many pastors, including my friend here in the state of Iowa – Pastor Cary Gordon, who are prepared to take the IRS to court should they try to enforce this speech restriction.
Regardless of how you feel about political speech in the pulpit, and by that I don’t just mean endorsements but also preaching on moral issues that are debated in the political realm, I would hope you recognize that no one’s free speech should ever be curtailed by the threat of taxation. There should not be any government intrusion in the pulpit at all. That is unacceptable in a free society.