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Would the Johnson Amendment Have Stopped the War for Independence and Abolitionist Movement?

Had the Johnson Amendment been in effect prior to 1954, the American War for Independence and the abolitionist movement may have never happened.

The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code prohibits nonprofit, tax-exempt entities from participating in, or intervening in, “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” This prohibition includes “the publishing or distributing of statements” on behalf of candidates, legislation, or political parties.

The amendment was originally proposed by Texas Senator (and future President) Lyndon B. Johnson to silence and retaliate against the nonprofit political organizations that had been created to support his primary opponent. It was passed in 1954 by a unanimous voice vote without debate.

Although Congress never intended to include churches in the prohibition, “the I.R.S. has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches that the IRS could construe as supporting or opposing candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on American churches. Radical atheist organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have mounted public relations campaigns to intimidate churches and pastors. Not only do they spread misinformation about what churches and pastors can/cannot do regarding political involvement, but they have also reported to the IRS those churches who refused to remain silent about issues relating to government.

However, American pulpits have not always been censored by the federal government. Before the enactment of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors used their moral authority to speak prophetically to members and the culture about political issues.

From colonial times until the twentieth century, American churches often used their trusted social position to proclaim the Bible’s truth about issues being debated in public.

For example, pastors would frequently endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office, and they shared with their congregations whether a piece of legislation or a candidate’s positions were compatible with biblical principles. Pastors also commonly preached “Election Sermons,” which were given in the audience of public officials to exhort them to govern according to God’s truth and design for society.

Recognizing that a faithful exposition of God’s Word demanded that they preach about political issues, churches and pastors spoke into the civil arena and helped shape the American political debate for centuries. Perhaps this is no more apparent than the indispensable role churches played in the War for Independence, the abolition movement, and early civil rights movements.

John Adams, himself a central figure in the independence movement and the early republic, pointed to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew as having had a “great influence in the commencement” of the American War for Independence. Like many of his contemporaries, Mayhew preached and published sermons that seemed to “revive… animosity against tyranny in church and state.”

It was in church that early Americans learned of their inalienable rights and the proper jurisdiction and role of civil government. According to Adams, the Spirit of 1776 ripened, in part, because “the pulpits thundered!”

Leading up to the Civil War, churches also played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery. Quakers, Wesleyans, American Baptists, Congregationalists, and some Methodists stridently opposed the peculiar institution and mobilized political and social efforts against it, with their churches serving as the center of the action. Churches comprised many of the stops along the “Underground Railroad,” offering their sanctuaries as hiding places for those escaping slavery.

It is no wonder that the abolition of slavery came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, an Evangelical religious revival during the early nineteenth century that stressed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and propelled efforts to reform society according to biblical precepts.

Imagine if the Johnson Amendment had been around during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Would American churches have assumed their role as agents of social change in the movements for independence, abolition, and civil rights if their free speech had been muzzled by the federal government?

Churches and pastors have a biblical obligation to share biblical positions on political issues with their members and their communities. Throughout this nation’s history, churches have acted as champions of justice.

Although President Trump campaigned on “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, his religious liberty executive order last month failed to make any substantive changes to IRS policy. The ACLU called the executive order a “faux sop to religious conservatives” and an “elaborate photo-op” that “does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

It is time to stop censoring the constitutionally protected religious speech of American pulpits. Pastors who preach and uphold the entirety of the Bible should no longer have to fear the IRS. Congress should not wait any longer to begin the process of repealing the Johnson Amendment.


Blaine Conzatti is a columnist and research fellow at the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He can be reached at Blaine@FPIW.org.


Why Are Judges Only Concerned About Anti-Muslim Bias?

Central to the legal argument of those who oppose President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel to and from six Middle East nations is the idea that his campaign rhetoric invalidates the executive orders.

In her decision against the executive order, US District Judge Leonie Brinkema from Virginia wrote, “Absent the direct evidence of animus presented by the Commonwealth, singling out these countries for additional scrutiny might not raise Establishment Clause concerns; however, with that direct evidence, a different picture emerges.” Brinkema admits that the executive order would likely have been found constitutional had it been given by any other president. She goes on to explain her opinion that President Trump’s campaign rhetoric suggests that the order “was not motivated by rational national security concerns” but “religious prejudice.”

US District Judge Derrick Watson from Hawaii concurred. Watson reasons that Trump’s comments on the campaign trail represent “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order,” and that such animus was enough to violate the Constitution, even though nothing in the order is inherently illegal.

It is concerning that the precedent being set by these court decisions is that the author’s statements about the law determines its legality, not the actual text of the laws themselves. Presumably, this means any action taken by President Trump affecting Muslims will be declared unconstitutional.

Why wasn’t this novel legal standard applied to the previous administration’s actions affecting Christians, especially considering the administration’s animus toward those holding traditional religious values?

Amid the 2008 presidential primary season, then-Senator Obama, speaking of small town Americans, said that they were “bitter” and that they “cling to guns or religion.” By clearly demonstrating “religious prejudice” and “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” toward conservative Christians, Obama’s comments could have been used to find his actions affecting conservative Christians unconstitutional, at least according the logic of the aforementioned judges.

Funny enough, Obama’s comments weren’t used to find his actions affecting Christians unconstitutional, and not for lack of opportunities. Obama administration executive orders and legislation often ended up in court on the grounds of religious freedom involving Christians, most prominently Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Martin Castro, the Obama-appointed chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, declared that “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were nothing but “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” Any reasonable person would interpret these statements as anti-Christian animus. As the head of a major federal agency, Castro’s words clearly carry weight. So why do his rhetoric and the similar statements of others in the Obama administration never seem to come up in religious freedom cases involving Christians? Why are separate standards applied in cases based on the religion in question?

The appropriate conclusion is clear: The religious liberty of Christians is not valued by mainstream America in the same way that the religious liberty of other religions is. And even more disappointing, the religious liberty of Christians isn’t valued by the courts in the same way other religions are.

As President Trump fills out the more than 100 judicial vacancies, he should make the issue of religious liberty a top priority in his selections. Judge Neil Gorsuch is a great start. Let’s hope this emphasis on religious liberty continues to be reflected in lower court appointments, too.

 

James Silberman is a guest contributor to the FPIW Blog. He is a pro-life activist from Gig Harbor, WA, and a student at Whitworth University.

FPIW Joins Effort to Encourage Trump to Protect Religious Freedom

FPIW has joined with dozens of pro-family organizations asking President Trump “to swiftly sign a broad religious freedom Executive Order protecting the right of all Americans to freely live out their faith.”

In a letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, and Majority Leader McConnell, the organizations call on the new presidential administration and Congress to reverse President Obama’s attacks on religious freedom and enact strong protections for the sacred right.

The letter evokes many high profile religious liberty cases of the last eight years, including Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, Illinois Catholic Charities, and Sweet Cakes by Melissa:

“Under his ‘hallmark achievement’ (Obamacare) alone, the Obama Administration attempted to: force Christian family-owned businesses like Hobby Lobby to pay for drugs and devices that can cause early abortions, force Christian charities like the Little Sisters of the Poor to include those same drugs in their healthcare plans, and contravene longstanding federal policy protecting Americans from being forced to fund abortions against their religious beliefs. …

“Families in our states have felt the impact of the disregard and disdain for religious freedom from the federal level. Frequently, state non-discrimination laws have been used as a weapon to punish people of faith and prevent them from earning a living— unless they comport their businesses in the image of the government’s viewpoints. The Kleins in Oregon are a tragic example—Melissa Klein lost her bakery business and was forced to pay a fine of over $100,000 simply because as a family-owned business operated in accordance with the Kleins’ deeply held beliefs, they disagreed with using Melissa’s cake-decorating talents to participate in a same-sex wedding. Illinois Catholic Charities—an organization that partnered with government to serve the state’s poor and neglected children for over 40 years—was forced to shut down rather than comply with the government’s rule requiring them to abandon the core convictions that motivated their charity in the first place.”

It also details the Obama Administration’s attempts to limit religious liberty to a more restricted “freedom to worship”:

“The Administration unsuccessfully argued that the First Amendment does not exempt churches from employment discrimination laws, even when hiring their own pastors and teachers. Ironically, in the name of ‘preventing discrimination,’ President Obama issued an Executive Order in 2014 that discriminates against faith-based entities by preventing them from contracting with their own government unless they forfeit their religious beliefs about human sex and sexuality. One final example is the Obama Administration’s regular use of the term ‘freedom of worship’ instead of ‘freedom of religion’—implying a deep misunderstanding about the depth of First Amendment protections. We are guaranteed the right to freely live out our faith in all aspects of life—not just the freedom to worship our God within the four walls of our church or home.”

The letter concludes by asking President Trump to sign an executive order protecting religious liberty, much like the proposed executive order that was leaked earlier this month:

“A broad religious freedom Executive Order affirming that persons and organizations do not forfeit their religious freedom when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with local, state, or federal governments is an excellent and vital first step to truly make religious freedom great again. Congress should follow your lead to pass strong religious freedom protections into law.”

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

Write to President Trump and ask him to sign the executive order: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact#page.

Religious Freedom Executive Order Leaked; Progressives Panic

For many, it could define his Presidency.  And it’s a decision that could come within the first month of his term.

A leak of an executive order on religious freedom indicates that President Trump is seriously considering actions that would roll back many of the Obama Administration’s  assaults on religious freedom.

Generally, they’re concerned it would give individuals and religious organizations too much freedom.  This article from the Daily Signal summarizes some of what it would do.

  • Clarifies that religious exercise is more than worship: It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • Clarifies that religious freedom is for more than just churches: It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • Requires federal agencies to accommodate religious belief: It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Orders relief for Little Sisters of the Poor: It instructs the secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • Requires availability of health insurance without abortion coverage: It instructs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • Prohibits discrimination against social service organizations because of their faith: It instructs the Secretary of Health and Human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on an organization’s religious beliefs.
  • Creates protections for religious organizations that contract with the government: It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.
  • Protects tax exempt status for religious organizations: It instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to ensure that it does not revoke nonprofit tax status because a religious organization’s ordinary religious speech deals with politics, or because it speaks or acts on the belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife, that a person’s sex is based on immutable biology, or that life begins at conception.
  • Protects accreditation of religious institutions: It instructs all agencies of the federal government to refuse to recognize any decision by a federally recognized accrediting body that revokes or denies accreditation to an organization because of such beliefs.
  • Protects federal employees from discrimination based on beliefs: It instructs all agencies that they may not take adverse action against federal employees, contractors, or grantees because of their speech about marriage outside of their employment, contract, or grant, and that agencies shall reasonably accommodate such beliefs inside of employment, contract, or grant.

While these protections would be a change from the Obama Administration’s posture on religious freedom, historically it would represent a return the mainstream.

All these protections in the executive order were more or less assumed prior to President Obama taking office and progressives believing they now had an inalienable right to make people do things they didn’t want to do in the name of ending “discrimination.”

While progressives have already labeled them as plans to “legalize discrimination“, they’re mostly a restatement of what religious freedom has always been understood to mean.

Namely, a place where people get to be who they are and the government doesn’t get to punish them for it.

You can be sure that progressives will be beating down the doors trying to convince the president not to make good on his campaign promises.

Which is exactly why he needs to hear from you.  Call the White House and tell President Trump that you want him to fulfill his campaign promises and protect religious freedom. (202)-456-1414.  Or send a message online at www.whitehouse.gov/contact

Then share this with your friends and encourage them to do the same.