And this particular prohibition on churches engaging in certain political activities shouldn’t exist anyway. While churches should follow current law, Congress should make nixing this provision part of a comprehensive and long-overdue revision of the tax code related to nonprofits. It’s unclear why then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson introduced this amendment in 1954. It is not even clear he intended to target churches. At the time he was doing battle with two nonprofit groups calling him a closet communist.
The result is some tax-exempt organizations have their speech stifled while others don’t. It’s unfair. Nonprofits from political action committees to social welfare groups can engage in political activities. Congress should allow all organizations to do so. Everyone in this country should be free to express their opinions, regardless of their tax status.
I’m sure that the Des Moines Register understands the necessity for civil disobedience in some cases. I can’t believe they think that civil disobedience exercised during the civil rights movement to protest unjust laws is inappropriate. Personally, I’m not a fan of churches endorsing candidates mainly because I don’t want to see the pulpit used for politics. I definitely am a fan of pastors speaking boldly on issues of the day in light of a Christian worldview and encouraging their members to vote according to their worldview. That’s preaching the whole counsel of God.
If pastors as individuals want to do that as individuals go for it. Now that is personal preference, but churches should be able to exercise this kind of speech however.
The Register’s editorial board also addressed Pulpit Freedom Sundays sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom:
For several years, hundreds of churches have intentionally delivered political sermons on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual event organized by an Arizona-based group. They make a point to flout the law and thumb their nose at the Internal Revenue Service. The underfunded agency doesn’t have the staff to pursue such violations and also likely fears the conservative backlash if it “targets” churches.
The IRS is underfunded? Please! These pastors do this because they want the IRS to act. They reference Pastor Cary Gordon of Sioux City who said a few years ago that he wants the IRS to come after him so he can sue them all the way to the Supreme Court. The IRS doesn’t go after churches because the threat is enough to cow some churches into avoiding what is deemed “political” speech altogether so they avoid crucial worldview discussions. The people at the IRS know that there is no way this law would stand if challenged in court as it is clearly unconstitutional.
So the Register got this issue half-right at least. We agree that the law does need to be changed. We disagree that churches should wait for Congress to act.