Our country has a rich and valued history of respecting the unique contribution religion makes to the moral culture of a people. Until the mid 1950s, Americans turned to churches and other houses of worship during the debate of the great moral issues of the day. In the early decades of our country, the “election sermon” was common. For nearly two centuries, our religious leaders enjoyed the right to freedom of speech and, acknowledging our religious heritage, publically addressed the key issues of their time, from their sincerely held religious viewpoints.
Just a little over sixty years ago, in 1954, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) reportedly sought political retribution against an opponent, whose election campaign was supported by two non-profit organizations. His tactic was to quietly add an amendment to a standard tax bill. It barred all tax-exempt groups, including churches, from participating in partisan politics. It was never debated but passed on a voice vote.
This little-noticed amendment unleashed government’s intimidation and censorship over the freedom of speech of religious leaders. The I.R.S threatened the loss of tax-exempt status for the contributions of their congregations. The consequence of forced submission to this selective censorship has negatively impacted our nation’s spiritual and moral health.
Now, a bill has been presented in Congress with the potential to change this unintended censorship of churches and other religious organizations. H.R. 153 (Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-NC3) would restore free speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations, by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment. It would put an end to the reign of the I.R.S. as “speech police” and restore your religious leader’s free speech rights.
Let’s renew “liberty and justice for all”—including our religious leaders and the congregations they serve.