Shouldn’t places of worship be among the most free?
I think freedom works best when people have choices. Those choices allow us to make lousy decisions, as well as excellent ones. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out which.
I wandered onto a page run by the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Here’s just a picture and caption from the page:
I agree with the first part. That does look like a nice place to hear a sermon. And I almost agree with the second part. If Reverend Johnson at the Luther Memorial Lutheran Church (so Lutheran we put it in the name twice!) decided to list off the best people to vote for, I’d be a bit uncomfortable. In part because for a long time, that sort of thing has been forbidden. So, it would be a really, new thing.
But wait. Who says that has to be the only way? I don’t know those people in that church. Maybe they want that kind of help from their preacher. Is it really necessary to mandate this? Does government have that authority?
Actually, yes they have that authority. Bob Mefford of the American’s United for the Separation of Church and State:
We’ve heard a lot lately about repealing the “Johnson Amendment.” This provision, passed in 1954, is called that because its sponsor was then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon Johnson (D-Texas). It states that groups holding 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status – a category that includes houses of worship – may not endorse or oppose candidates running for office. Despite this provision in federal law, I am sad to say that in recent years many of my extremist Christian brothers and sisters (though mainly brothers) have fought hard to make houses of worship centers for partisan politics.
[We all know that no matter what else is true, the word “extremist” is code for “they don’t see eye to eye with me.” He diminishes his argument by adding this.]
I actually have not heard much about the Johnson Amendment. I always wondered where this ‘don’t politicize the pulpit’ stuff came from.
Again, I’m more interested in stepping back and wondering…Why does my government care? In what way is civic life enhanced, protected or made more free by a provision in federal tax law which forces houses of worship to stop short of certain activities?
Oh, I know why I don’t want endorsing in my church. That fella can barely keep the Corinthians and Samaritans figured out. [Just kidding, of course.] On the other hand, do I want the choice to worship somewhere with another way of doing things?
As we are now, there is no choice. Honestly, how much freedom can there be if all churches are under this mandate? I’m free to go to any church I want to, but no preacher is free to say those things he or she feels or things about political campaigns. Shouldn’t places of worship be among the most free?
Thanks, Bob Mefford, for pointing out the exact year and location in federal law when my church sold off some of it’s rights, in order to keep tax exempt status. I know you hoped to do something else with your essay. But thanks.
By the way, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State has some kind of event this week on Facebook. They claim their vision is under fire, no doubt from ‘religious freedom statutes’ being proposed by state legislatures.
They’re wrong in my opinion, but of course since I’m not actually in a church right now, I can say whatever I want. I have all of the protections offered by my country’s First Amendment.