The Des Moines Register‘s editorial board says that the ban on politically active churches should remain in place.
It should surprise me that a NEWSPAPER would oppose free speech, but this is The Des Moines Register we are talking about. They have already attacked a parent’s right to educate their children at home without government interference. They have attacked the right to religious conscience for Christian-owned businesses. So why not go for the hat trick and go after free speech as it concerns churches and pastors.
Apparently “(political) free speech is good for me, but not for thee” is their mindset.
Let’s take apart this tripe starting with the headline.
1. There is no ban on politically active churches.
There is no ban on politically active churches. None. Churches have always been free to address political issues with moral implications. What the Johnson Amendment does is say that organizations can’t endorse or lobby and maintain their 501(c)3 status that allows people to deduct donations made to that organization on their taxes.
Some churches advocate not even organizing as a charitable non-profit, but most do. The rub is that some believe that if you take this deduction away it will severely impact the level of donations. It may or may not, it would probably depend on the church and what they teach about giving. Frankly if your donations are motivated by a tax deduction rather than it being a sacrificial act of worship then you have a heart problem.
This leads me to my next point.
2. Tax-deductions members receive and churches being tax-exempt are not a taxpayer-provided subsidy.
The editorial board writes, “tax deductions and exemptions are, in effect, a form of taxpayer-provided subsidies — and no one wants to see taxpayer subsidies used to support political candidates, regardless of party.”
Whose money are we talking about? It’s not the government’s. These are not grants or tax credits we are talking about. This is simply people being able to keep more of their money. That isn’t a subsidy because it was never their money to begin with it was always the individual donor’s.
Regarding tax exemptions, government doesn’t send money to churches. Our national since its founding has not taxed churches and there is a good reason for this which I’ll touch on a little later.
3. The Johnson Amendment is simply unconstitutional.
The editorial board notes that pastors addressing political issues is commonplace. There are already churches that have challenged the IRS to enforce it. The IRS doesn’t and why? Because they know they would lose in court.
Then U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson (D-TX) added the amendment simply for the purpose of shutting up a non-profit organization in his state that was being a pain in his caboose. The whole purpose of the amendment was to silence a critic and here The Des Moines Register defends this.
Not only does the Constitution guarantee our constitutional right to free speech in the First Amendment, but it also says Congress can’t prohibit the free exercise of religion. The left loves to talk about the “separation of church and state,” but when it comes to this issue they don’t consider the implications.
In 1804 when then President Thomas Jefferson responding to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, after they requested he intervene as they opposed Connecticut’s established religion, wrote:
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
This wall exists to affirm natural rights which includes those of religious faith and worship. The wall’s intent is not to hold captive a church or pastor’s free exercise of faith. The state should never be allowed to tax the church – period. In the same way we don’t have a theocracy and our laws are not subject for approval by a religious ecclesiastical body. The two institutions, both established by God, are to be independent of one another and each have their own role. Our founders understood this. This wall, however, is not meant to prevent the Church from addressing issues with candidates or policies, but it does prevent the government from using coercive power against the Church and outside of military or police force you don’t get much more coercive than taxation.
4. Churches are, by nature, charitable organizations.
I’m not exactly sure where this idea that churches unencumbered by the Johnson amendment will all revert to being political organizations, they won’t. Tax exemptions for churches and tax deduction for donors are given because churches are non-profits. They do not tax. They are not for profit. They depend on the generosity of their members.
Churches serve, what that service looks like is different for each church, but churches give back to the communities in which they are located and this is something that newspapers and media like The Des Moines Register never report on.
Churches won’t become a pass through organization for political funding simply because their pastors can speak freely from the pulpit. If the editorial board really thinks that is the case they haven’t attended a church budget meeting.
5. Even with this restriction lifted most churches probably still won’t endorse or lobby.
Most churches that I have attended have not really been politically active. They have been a faithful gospel witness to the community. They are gospel-centered. Their focus is on making disciples, and anything that would be seen as a hindrance to that would be avoided. The only thing they really want coming from the pulpit is the exposition and proclamation of God’s word. Most pastors I know DO NOT WANT to make endorsements from the pulpit because they don’t want politics to be a stumbling block to sharing the Gospel. I know many who do not even make personal endorsements even though under the Johnson Amendment that is acceptable.
They want the ability to speak biblically on issues of the the day, but that doesn’t require a political endorsement. They want to continue to be faithful, gospel witnesses serving their communities without government interference.
The government should never dictate the speech that comes from the pulpit. If that isn’t a gross violation of the free exercise clause I don’t know what is. Not only is The Des Moines Register editorial board’s opinion misguided, but it is hypocritical since they tout free speech for themselves. While we disagree I don’t see anyone from the Church calling for their voice to be silenced.