Voter Values #2

This is week 2 of 4 articles which I am going to provide my thoughts and others such as the Family Research Council (www.FRC.org) Obviously these thoughts will focus on the upcoming election. Today’s thought is an excerpt from a larger article written by Tony Perkins, CEO of the Family Research Council. Most of this article is from 2 years ago, but it still looms true today. Certain Senators of a certain political party blocked its addition to the recent tax bill passed by Congress. They said it wasn’t germane to the main part of the bill. In simple speech it means it doesn’t line up with the main purpose of the bill. So the battle for free speech in churches continues on.

Millions of Americans will go to the polls Nov. 6 and vote. These Americans are a cross section of society; they are diverse, with many different opinions, political views, areas of interest, and sources of knowledge that inspire their choices. Yet for decades a provision of the tax code referred to as the Johnson Amendment has prevented these organizations from providing such information.

Section 501(c)3 bars corporations … “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes from participating in, or intervening in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The amendment was introduced in 1954 by Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, as a way to stop his political opponents. The future president never intended to bar advocacy organizations from mentioning elected officials, or pastors and churches from commenting on candidates.

Unfortunately, the Johnson Amendment certainly has been used in this way. Indeed, under current IRS guidance, it prevents a whole host of nonprofit organizations, religious and otherwise, from informing their followers in ways relevant to their own duty to vote.

This ban is at odds with our own history. Since the birth of our nation, pastors and churches have been at the forefront of shaping public debate and our choice of public servants.

For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was a clergyman, and the political involvement of African-American churches was integral to progress in the civil rights movement he helped lead in the 1950s and 1960s.

Where would we be now if such pastors had not made their voices heard on the political and social issues of their time? Not all pastors will choose to address political issues and candidates in the same way. But just because some may not does not mean all should not have the right to do so.

Today, many pastors and churches have been intimidated into silence by guidance from the Internal Revenue Service that relies on the Johnson Amendment to repress speech from the pulpit. This is not right, and it must change.

One problem with the current IRS guidance is that it is incredibly vague. No one knows precisely what kind of spoken or written comment on a candidate will draw the attention of the IRS. Even the IRS itself does not clearly describe what would violate the law. Such vagueness chills free speech.

Another problem with the current law is that it is selectively enforced. The IRS targets certain nonprofit organizations while ignoring others that do the same thing.

All 501(c)3 nonprofits, religious and otherwise, should be able to speak in these ways free from the threat of impending government prosecution. Question for us…where do the current candidates stand on this issue? Maybe we should all be doing some investigating!

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