Sunday, October 2, 2011

ADF Promotes "Pulpit Freedom Sunday"

Sunday, October 2nd was Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an initiative sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund to encourage religious leaders to speak about political candidates and elections from the pulpit (see blog[dot]speakupmovement[dot]org/church/churches-and-politics/pastors-gearing-up-for-pulpit-freedom-sunday-oct-2-2011/). Pulpit Freedom Sunday is part of the ADF's larger Pulpit Initiative, started in 2008 as an effort to have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.

The Pulpit Initiative opposes the 1954 Johnson amendment which prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations from participating or intervening in political campaigns for public office. Church contributions to political campaigns, as well as public statements on behalf of a church made for or against candidates, are considered violations of the Internal Revenue Code and can result in loss of tax-exempt status. (See here for more details.)

The Pulpit Initiative website condemns the Johnson amendment as an "unjust and unconstitutional law" that allegedly silences churches. It insists that its efforts are not intended to turn churches into "political machines", but to "restore" the rights of religious leaders to speak publicly about matters pertaining to Scripture, including politics. According to its FAQ page, ADF plans to legally represent churches or pastors under investigation by the IRS for "preaching biblical Truth" in support of or in opposition to candidates (see adfwebadmin[dot]com/userfiles/file/Pulpit%20Freedom%20Initiative%20FAQ%20v6.pdf)

The initiative had enjoyed the support of Religious Right leaders since its inception, and this year is no different. Right-wing Christian religious leaders such as Jim Garlow, Ruben Diaz, and Bishop Harry Jackson have provided content for the website in favor of the initiative. Glenn Beck and his guests spoke positively of the initiative on the September 27th edition of GBTV (see www[dot]glennbeck[dot]com/2011/09/27/what-is-the-johnson-amendment/). In another conversation with Jim Garlow and Richard Land, Glenn Beck also spoke supportively of the initiative.

The Pulpit Initiative is troubling because of its implications for church-state separation. Despite the ADF's claims, I fear that overturning the Johnson amendment could easily lead to churches becoming "political machines," given the authority that some churches command over their congregants. To boot, clergy speaking for or against candidates run the risk of intimidating some of their congregants, as Warren Throckmorton warns.

Agreeding to refrain from supporting or opposing political candidates is the trade-off for churchs' tax-exempt status. This is not about curtailing clergymembers' freedom of speech, since members of the clergy are free to speak publicly about social issues and countless other topics. Rather, this is about separation of church and state.

To learn more about Pulpit Freedom Sunday and the Pulpit Initiative, visit speakupmovement[dot]org

For additional news and commentary, visit the following links.

Iowa Independent: Clergy warned about 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday'

Wall of Separation: Pulpit Perversion Sunday: The Religious Right's Partisan Scheme to Politicize Churches

Right Wing Watch: Beck Endorses "Pulpit Initiative" Effort to Challenge IRS

Los Angeles Times: Preachers, Choose Your Words Wisely

Warren Throckmorton at Crosswalk: Pulpit Freedom Sunday: Just Because You Can Doesn't Mean You Should


  1. The reality is that certain churches stand to benefit economically from political involvement. But they demand that their financials be hidden from public view. Therefore, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

    If the RR folks want the Johnson Amendment repealed, I'm cool with that so long as in a fair exchange, churches then are treated like the businesses they in many cases are. For example, the Mormon Church's financials are super secret but conservative estimates place their annual tithing revenues in the range of $8 billion dollars.

    The problem with such a business-oriented church's tax exempt status is there is no public accountability when it comes to a church's so-called "not-for-profit" ventures. There is also a lot of gray area between "for profit" and "not-for-profit."

    They want to repeal the Johnson Amendment and have direct political involvement? I say, have at it. But in exchange you so-called charitable institutions have to report ALL of your financials. Sure, purely charitable contributions should still be tax exempt, but let the public see what you're taking in and what you're claiming. There needs to be accountability.

    On a related note, Ahab, do you want to know how to make LDS Inc. settle a lawsuit? Make their financials relevant to the case so they have to fully disclose them during discovery. They've never done that and they never will. The threat of such exposure scares the hell out of them. They prefer to keep their members and everyone else in the dark. And corruption thrives on secrecy. So when faced with the compelled disclosure, they always settle. Always.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- As always, you provide a great perspective on things. I agree wholeheartedly on the issue of accountability, and I'll remember the LDS advice!

  3. Great article Ahab, and great comment CD. Personally, I'd like to see religions taxed anyway, at least taxed on any portion of their income which isn't directly used charitably, like for a soup kitchen. Not only would this help our debt, but the accountability would benefit our national security as a whole.

  4. Wise Fool -- Wise observations! Churches need to be financially accountable, just like other organizations.


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