One of the more interesting battles currently underway to regain long-standing constitutional rights undermined in recent years involves pastors fighting to regain their constitutional right to be free from government interference — especially from the IRS.
Historically, no government restrictions were placed on the pulpit until 1954, when a one-line provision was added to a bill in the U. S. Senate limiting the right of non-profits to engage in whatever the IRS might determine to be political speech. Secularist groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State now regularly invoke that regulation to intimidate pastors from speaking out on the issues of the day or from engaging even in the most innocuous of citizenship activities, such as distributing voters guides and encouraging parishioners to vote their Biblical values.
I have long held that this interference by the IRS — or by any government agency at any level, including the current congressional investigation spearheaded by U. S. Senator Charles Grassley against several prominent ministries — is a wrong and unconstitutional practice. The real issue is not whether it is appropriate for a pastor to be speaking out on issues of the day; rather it is rather a question of the proper jurisdiction to make that determination. It is wrong for the government to be in charge of listening to sermons to determine what can or cannot be said from the pulpit (or conducting internal investigations of their finances) — just as it is wrong for them to listen to public prayers to decide which words may and may not be used in prayers. The proper jurisdiction to examine what is said from the pulpit is first between the pastor and God, and then between that pastor and his congregation; but it is not the jurisdiction of the government to regulate or investigate the speech of a pastor.
Alliance Defense Fund, a premier national legal group that defends the constitutional rights of Christians, has organized a concerted effort to push back against this government intrusion. Of this effort (called the “Pulpit Initiative”), ADF explains:
“On Sunday, September 28, 2008, we are seeking pastors who will preach from the pulpit a sermon that addresses the candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture. The sermon is intended to challenge the Internal Revenue Code’s restrictions by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the Scriptural truth. By standing together and speaking with one voice, it is our hope to recapture the rightful place of pastors and churches in American life.”
This effort actually began earlier in the year during the primaries, and one of those who participated was the Rev. Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in Minnesota. In a sermon in May, Pastor Booth told his congregation:
“If you are a Christian, you cannot support a candidate like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for president. . . . They both support abortion and homosexual marriage, and the Scripture vehemently opposes both.”
It is time for pastors to regain the freedom they had for the first 350 years of American history — and for several thousand years before that, as when Elijah, Nathan, Gad, Elisha, and numerous others of God’s ministers spoke directly into the political arena, taking stands on the policies and civil leaders of the day. (We’re currently offering the DVD and book The Role of Pastors and Christians in Civil Government, a historic look at the role of pastors in the civil arena, for 25% off of either or both items.)
Daniel Webster rightly noted: “God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it,” and the freedom of the American pulpit is a liberty worth defending. On behalf of this effort, I agree with the prayer offered by signer of the Declaration Francis Hopkinson who, when contemplating America’s struggle against its oppressors, fervently uttered: “And may Heaven prosper their virtuous undertaking!”
Please pray for this endeavor — and for the pastors who are willing to step out on the firing lines in this initiative. They undoubtedly will take the heat of criticism and of negative media coverage as the secularists surely will explode in outrage over this venture. Also pray for the ADF attorneys who have prepared so diligently for this momentous and historic event. We are excited about the potential of this undertaking!
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