The effort is called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and was organized by the Pulpit Initiative, a project of the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). As the seventh annual event of its kind, ADF is encouraging pastors to “speak truth into every area of life from the pulpit.”
Pastors from all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have committed to preach today about Biblical marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. ADF says that in doing so, “they will exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit.”
“Pastors should decide what they preach from the pulpit, not the IRS,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who oversees the observance. “Churches should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. There’s a growing chorus of pastors’ voices calling for a solution to this very real constitutional violation.”
“Churches don’t have to give up their freedom of speech to remain tax-exempt any more than they have to give up their protection against illegal search and seizure or any other protection in the Bill of Rights,” he added.
ADF says that one if its goals since the effort was established in 2008 is to have the Johnson Amendment struck down in the courts. The amendment, passed in 1954 and introduced by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson, states that churches may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”
“The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech—afraid to apply the teachings of Scripture to specific candidates or elections. As in years past, the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014 are taking a stand against being intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment freedoms.”
According to the documentary “A Defense of God’s Law,” the nation’s decision to allow tax exemption for churches was grounded in Scripture. It cites Ezra 7:24, which outlines, “Also we certify you, that touching any of the priests and Levites, singers, porters, Nethinims, or ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them.” Many pastors throughout history have preached on political matters, that is, until the last 60 years.
Some churches and non-profit organizations refuse to apply for 501 (c)(3) status because they would rather pay taxes than forfeit their freedom of speech.
“A church that voluntarily initiates an application to the state for corporate status expects ‘limited liability’ and ‘tax exemption.’ It in turn owes to the state its right to exist and prosper,” stated Art Fisher of Reformed Bible Church in Central Islip, New York, who has not applied for tax-exempt status for his congregation. “It is obvious that its legal status and that of its of its ‘flock’ has been drastically altered.”
“Why are the churches of today almost always found to be incorporated? Why would the churches elect to place themselves under such jurisdiction — to find regulation under governmental franchise preferable to their own Divine Law?” he asked. “Are they not in fact serving two masters?”
Over 3,500 pastors have signed an agreement since the launch of Pulpit Freedom Sunday stating that churches should have the freedom to preach about whatever they wish, including political matters.