Skip to comments.Preachers under fire: politics from the pulpit breaks the law, some say [Presbyterian Rebellion Day]
Posted on 07/04/2013 4:53:56 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
God created government.
So preached Pastor Jack Hibbs of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in the days leading up to the presidential election.
Hibbs has joined with nearly 1,600 pastors across the country and about 140 in California in the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort aimed at protecting the free-speech rights of pastors in the pulpit.
Hibbs' sermons in a series called "Politics and Faith" may have been enough to let the church know which candidate he supported.
Or at least who he didn't.
He preached about politics and Israel. And politics and defending the pre-born.
Hibbs was emphatic during an Oct. 10 sermon titled "Politics And Your Faith: Why Traditional Marriage Matters":
"One platform says save babies. The other platform says kill babies. One platform says God. One platform does not say God. One platform says Israel. The other one says no Israel."
Some say Hibbs broke the law. Others say he didn't.
Johnson v. Jesus?
Congress in 1954 passed the Johnson Amendment.
Named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, the law was based on the premise that tax-exempt organizations should not publicly endorse or oppose political candidates.
"Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes," the law says.
Those who support the Johnson Amendment say churches like Calvary Chapel Chino Hills should lose their tax-exempt status.
Steven Baines, director of religious outreach at the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United, a group that says it is dedicated to preserving church-state separation, said Hibbs' comments about political platforms were a violation of the IRS law.
"What that minister did was link it to one particular candidate or one office and that's where he crossed the line," Baines said.
Ordained as a Southern Baptist minister and now a part of the Disciples of Christ, Baines said pastors using the pulpit to endorse candidates is bad public policy. And bad for religious freedom in the United States.
"As a minister myself, I can think of nothing worse than turning our pulpits into super (political action committees) for one party or the other," Baines said.
Baines said his group received more than 100 complaints leading up to the election.
"I would say the majority of the complaints did come in from congregations that were opposed to President Obama or emphatically endorsed Mitt Romney," he said.
"What we're asking is that houses of worship should follow the law, (and) the IRS should prosecute them for defying the law," he said.
But some scholars suggest that pastors simply got caught in the cross-hairs of the Johnson Amendment.
They say it wasn't intended to muzzle ministers.
James D. Davidson, emeritus professor of sociology at Purdue University, said Johnson aimed the provision at political opponents trying to get him out of office.
"And the way he found to deal with them was to pull the plug on their tax-exempt status," Davidson said. "It was nothing to do with religion at all. It's one of those unintended consequences."
Freedom to preach
The Pulpit Initiative every year holds Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when pastors focus on political issues.
Backed by the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the event marked its fifth anniversary on Oct. 7.
"Since 1954 and the Johnson Amendment, the IRS has set itself up as the pulpit police," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance, which has about 2,200 lawyers assisting with the initiative.
Stanley said his group supports the free-speech rights of pastors on both sides of the political aisle.
"Pulpit Freedom Sunday is really all about protecting a pastor's right to speak freely from the pulpit and not be intimidated or censored by the government for doing so," he said.
His group at some point wants to generate a "test case" in hopes of having the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.
Alliance may indeed have a case.
The Supreme Court in 2010 ruled in favor of the nonprofit conservative group Citizens United, which produced a 2008 movie attacking Hillary Clinton and sought to advertise it on broadcast TV.
Opponents say the court eased campaign spending restrictions on corporations and labor unions.
Dean Broyles, president of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy, which has defended the rights of families to hold church services in their homes, said the Citizens United case could be a precursor to the Supreme Court killing the Johnson Amendment.
He said the issue is whether corporations are considered people, because if so, they have First Amendment rights. Most churches form as nonprofit corporations.
"With the current court makeup, my prediction will be if they follow the analysis of the Citizens United case, the Johnson Amendment will be struck down," Broyles said.
He said the other option is that a groundswell of pastors causes lawmakers to take notice and overturn the Johnson Amendment.
American pulpits since the founding of the country have been filled with pastors dedicated to political reform.
Scholars point to the Congregationalist church and Presbyterians in New England as having a profound impact on the shaping of the nation.
"There has been a long history of preaching in this country that was political and quite divisive," said James E. Bradley, the Geoffrey W. Bromiley professor of church history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
"The pulpit was pretty critical to the success in the revolt against England and King George III," Bradley said. "Some referred to the revolution as a Presbyterian rebellion."
Bradley also noted that Baptists and Presbyterians were instrumental in stopping the effort to impose a religious tax paid to Anglican Church ministers in Virginia.
The cord between government and religion in that state was cut when a bill passed in 1785 defeated religious taxes, and Thomas Jefferson in 1786 passed the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.
"Against a lot of contemporary popular opinion, it's the case that some religious groups were quite instrumental in the beginning of religious freedom," Bradley said.
The pulpit also was prominent on both sides of the Civil War, as northern Baptists preached abolition and Southern Baptists supported slavery, he said.
And the civil rights movement saw black preachers and those like Martin Luther King Jr. use the pulpit to rally the nation.
Bradley said the American revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movement "are just three of the most obvious illustrations of how public and outspoken protestant preachers have been in this country."
'Draw the IRS out'
The IRS has warned several churches about possibly losing their tax-exempt status for endorsing candidates.
In 2004, a presidential election year, the IRS warned 42 churches for "prohibited political campaign intervention."
Raphael Tulino, an IRS spokesman, said "we don't go anywhere near commenting on specific taxpayer cases."
After the 1992 presidential election, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of the Church at Pierce in Vestal, N.Y.
The congregation had published anti-Clinton advertisements in newspapers.
In 2007, the IRS dropped its investigation into All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.
An anti-war sermon had been preached at the liberal church two days before the 2004 presidential election.
The Rev. Susan Russell said the IRS fight was a watershed moment for the church, which has a deep history of preaching on issues such as anti-war policy, poverty, torture and marriage equality.
"Our challenge with the IRS helped us understand how critically important it is for patriotic people of faith to stand firmly on the right side of the line in advocating on issues and taking partisan positions," Russell said.
She said it's important for Alliance Episcopal to preach values while not endorsing a candidate, so that it is free to criticize what it perceives as bad policies from either side of the aisle.
David Hernandez of San Dimas has been regularly attending Calvary Chapel Chino Hills for about three years.
He said Hibbs doesn't tell the flock which way to vote.
"I think sometimes there are people that are uninformed or under-educated about a certain item or proposition, and Pastor Jack brings it up and looks at it from a biblical point of view," Hernandez said.
Hibbs remains steadfast in his commitment to preaching in the face of the Johnson Amendment and IRS auditors.
Hibbs sent a DVD copy of his sermons, along with a letter to the IRS saying "I am confident that you will agree with the church/state protections established by our forefathers that allows pastors to apply Scripture to all issues in life without fear of government censorship."
As for Baines' comment that he crossed the line and broke the law in his sermon series on politics, Hibbs said it made him smile. He welcomes an IRS case because he believes it will help get the Johnson Amendment overturned.
"That's the whole point, to cross the line, to draw fire," Hibbs said. "We want to draw the IRS out."
Bradley also noted that Baptists and Presbyterians were instrumental in stopping the effort to impose a religious tax paid to Anglican Church ministers in Virginia. The cord between government and religion in that state was cut when a bill passed in 1785 defeated religious taxes, and Thomas Jefferson in 1786 passed the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. Against a lot of contemporary popular opinion, it's the case that some religious groups were quite instrumental in the beginning of religious freedom," Bradley said.
The pulpit also was prominent on both sides of the Civil War, as northern Baptists preached abolition and Southern Baptists supported slavery, he said. And the civil rights movement saw black preachers and those like Martin Luther King Jr. use the pulpit to rally the nation. Bradley said the American revolution, the Civil War and the civil rights movement "are just three of the most obvious illustrations of how public and outspoken protestant preachers have been in this country."
government doesn’t get it.....they can’t tell preachers what to preach
Evil government wants to tell preachers what to preach, and will do so if not prevented.
Two words why the government won’t take away tax exemptions - black churches.
Here in Seattle, Mt. Zion Baptist Church has been a black, liberal activist church for 50 years, and its former pastor - Samuel McKinney - is a hero to local liberals, black and white. In all those years, I NEVER heard any liberal criticize him for preaching politics from the pulpit - he was considered a hero for doing it. But when conservative pastors speak on politics, it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL, ILLEGAL, and INAPPROPRIATE!!! Or so they say . . .
You beat me to it by 1/2 second.
Nor can the POTUS tell religious people to keep their worship private and their religious opinions to themselves.
See, thats his problem. If he preached liberalism, well then thats ok.
Haven’t these people ever heard of Rev Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement?
Democrat politicians “preach” before elections in Black chjurches. One of the funniest was Hillary speacking in black dialect.
You do understand it is only white ministers preaching traditional virtues that are a problem.
Doesn’t it say in the Bible”he who will not work,neither shall he eat” ?
That alone is anathema to the Welfare crowd.
And then there are those pesky Commandments about murder,stealing,false witness, and coveting.
No, they can’t. They are acting unconstitutionally if they prevent preachers from doing so. It is freedom of speech.
Thanks Alex Murphy.
Best solution: Eliminate the IRS....
Find another way to finance the government after shrinking the federal government to the smallest possible.
DownSize DC! FOREVER
Then preaching from the pulpit cannot be intimidated.
“Congress in 1954 passed the Johnson Amendment.
Named after then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, the law was based on the premise that tax-exempt organizations should not publicly endorse or oppose political candidates.”
Anything piece of legislation connected with LBJ should be repealed, just on principle.
Authoritarian governments have always feared and fought churches. There is a reason autocrats are atheists and work so hard at stamping out religion. That is part of the current effort to turn Christians into second class citizens.
The power to tax is the power to destroy.