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 sixth 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 be able to speak truth into every area of life without fear or intimidation,” said ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley. “Pulpit Freedom Sunday has always encouraged pastors to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to do just that from their pulpits. This year, marriage is at the forefront of public debate. There’s no better time for pastors to equip their congregations with the truth about marriage and why it matters for children, families, society, civil government, and the church.”
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.”
While the amendment does not specifically prohibit speech on topics that may be construed as being “political,” such as homosexuality and abortion, ADF contends that it has often been interpreted that way by the IRS. It asserts that churches have refrained from speaking on certain societal topics out of a fear of losing their tax exempt status.
“When the church is silent, the culture suffers,” Stanley said. “The church is integral to the moral stability of a society. Every day that pastors are intimidated into silence on issues like life, liberty, the family, and marriage is another day the cultural erosion continues unchecked. Pulpit Freedom Sunday is just one opportunity for pastors to speak up and make a difference for the good of their congregations and the culture.”
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?”
Pulpit Freedom Sunday will be extended throughout the summer for pastors who were unable to participate in today’s effort.