Government Watch / We The People

Unmuzzling the Bully Pulpit

Submitted by AMAC Member Brent Benton –

There’s a fight brewing that you should know about. While many Americans today are concerned about losing our present liberties, this fight is about regaining a liberty lost more than 60 years ago.

In the mid-1950’s Lyndon Johnson was deeply involved in a hotly contested senatorial race in Texas. The opposition he faced included two organizations actively supporting Johnson’s opponents. Looking to counter this opposition, he proposed an amendment to the IRS tax code which was under consideration at the time. This amendment, which came to be called ‘The Johnson Amendment’, worked to withhold tax-exempt status from certain organizations that actively supported pending legislation or political candidates.

The amendment, the now well-known Section 501(c) (3), was passed on a voice vote (1954). There was little legislative analysis or consideration of the effects the amendment might have on broader constitutional rights. Whether the move was one of political maneuvering or tax reform, one consequence was that churches and religious organizations were suddenly and inexplicably thrown into the 501(c) (3) exemption category. As a result, and contrary to all historical and constitutional traditions, churches were suddenly disallowed from discussing many aspects of politics.

The longstanding historical view has been that the political and social ‘voice’ of the church is beneficial to the wider society. For example, churches were early and loud protestors of slavery in America, with pastors such as Henry Ward Beecher preaching with great influence. Issues such as ending child labor, granting women’s suffrage, and promoting American independence were all proclaimed from pulpits across the Republic. The passage, in 1954, of changes to the tax code largely silenced that voice.

While the 1954 law did not restrict all political commentary, the implied legal threat to churches as well as ambiguities in the law’s wording, created an environment of self-censorship. Pastors not only abided by the letter of the law but effectively ceased preaching on most political topics. The impact of the law has been carried well beyond its original intent. Issues such as abortion, the definition of marriage, etc. rarely receive much more than passing references.

Although reviews of churches in the recent past has been sporadic, the IRS now appears to be moving forward with plans to bring churches under closer scrutiny. Last year a Treasury official announced that new rules for church auditing were ‘close’ to completioni. This could mean that the IRS may once again begin reviewing church speech.

Nevertheless, the stage may be set for challenging the Johnson Amendment in court. Once there, legal scholars believe there is a good chance it will be ruled unconstitutional. Factors such as the strength of historical precedent, the manner in which the Johnson Amendment came into existence, the uneven enforcement of the amendment, and recent court cases have convinced many that the Johnson Amendment’s days are numbered. Attorney Erik Stanley, writing in the Regent University Law Review, noted:

. . . recent Supreme Court decisions. . . provide substantial guidance and support to the argument that the Johnson Amendment is hopelessly unconstitutional.ii

In an attempt to force the issue, an effort was organized in 2008 to mobilize churches, encouraging them to exercise their freedom of speech and, ultimately, to test the constitutionality of the amendment. On October 7, 2008, 33 pastors from 22 states participated in what was called ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’, an effort sponsored by the ‘Alliance Defending Freedom’ (ADF) organization. In that year, these pastors preached sermons evaluating various political candidates in light of Scriptures, and they made specific voting recommendations to their congregations.    They recorded their messages and mailed copies to the IRS.  The goal was then, and continues to be, to induce the IRS to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status and, ultimately, to send the issue to court. The ADF and the Pulpit Freedom Sunday participants believe that once tested in court, the amendment will be ruled unconstitutional and churches will once again be free to preach as they see fit.iii Pulpit Freedom Sunday has been an annual event since 2008 and has grown every year with more than 1100 pastors participating in 2013.iv

Nevertheless, uneven enforcement by the IRS remains a concern for some groups. On November 14, 2012, the ‘Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.’, filed a complaint in the US District Court, Western District of Wisconsin, naming the IRS as defendants in a suit alleging that the IRS violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by failing to enforce the electioneering restrictions of the 501(c) (3) clause. This and other cases are still pending.

Churches, when they are free to preach as they choose, can be a powerful force for disseminating positive moral and ethical values throughout society. Today there are few opposing voices to the negative messages bombarding children and adults alike through media such as television, movies, and the internet. Returning to pastors the freedom to point out cultural shortcomings, encourage the election of Godly men and women to government offices, and suggest alternative ways forward for our nation can be a major step in helping America restore the values many believe are being lost.

Regardless of how the jabbing and sparring plays out, the issue of church censorship will remain unresolved until the courts rule on the amendment’s constitutionality. In the meantime, it is important to know and understand that this fight is in progress, to be aware of the courageous pastors that preach political messages when they deem it necessary, and to support the many efforts underway to un-muzzle churches and bring freedom of speech back to the pulpits.

i.  ——. “IRS Official: We Are Close to Auditing Churches Again”. SpeakUpMovement.Org Website,

ii. Stanley, Erik W., “LBJ, The IRS, and Churches:  The Unconstitutionality of the Johnson Amendment in Light of Recent Supreme Court Precedent”, Regent University Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, (2011-2012): 261.

iii   ——. “History of Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. SpeakUpMovement.Org. Website, 

iv.   Clark, Heather, “Pastors Nationwide to Challenge Government Speech Regulations on ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. Christian News Network. June 9, 2013,




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5 years ago

A huge surprise that the same man who later had his own president assassinated to further himself and his marxist agenda would have wanted to shut down the voice of the church.

Charlotte Barker
5 years ago

Brent, thank you for taking the time and effort to share your concerns so well. Your lead comment, “There’s a fight brewing…”, leads me to ask “where?”. Where do we need to make our voices heard, at the Alliance (ADF)? Will there be talking points that we can succinctly present and to whom? Our elected representatives? Eight months have passed; have any developments gelled? Your article is stirring; how do we follow up with actions, not platitudes?

Veatrice Bennett
6 years ago

I think that President Obama is not a US citizen; A newspaper published in Kenya said that he was born in Kenya. He has saddled us with so much debt, that we will never get out of debt with his lavish vacations. I really think that he is a spend-thrift.

Mary C. Carlson
6 years ago

People better wake up! Jesus is about to come for the Christians that are looking for him. Most churches and people today and even some pastors are in La La Land and don’t even have a clue. If you haven’t read The Harbinger and the Decoded Book of The Harbinger as well as the Study Guide to The Harbinger I strongly suggest that you do also everyone needs to read The Four Blood Moons by Pastor John Hagee for the first Blood Moon will appear starting next month. Better get ready folks this world as we know it is about… Read more »

6 years ago

Blacks are always preaching racial hate and political discontent in churches. Do they not know about this, or do they not care?

6 years ago

About ten years ago, at a local meeting of the American Association of University Women, they were about to issue a public statement supporting abortion. I stood up and told them that the next group that would be eliminated would be the elderly – and looked all of the white haired ladies in the group – because the elderly would be considered unproductive and surplus as we were not contributing to society. They were educated and progressive modern women, and said supporting abortion was too important not to support. If our profile does not fit the government guidelines – we… Read more »

Helen Settles
6 years ago

About ten years ago, I was at a local meeting of the American Association of University Women – They were about to issue a manifesto supporting abortion. I looked about and told them – the next group they will “eliminate” will be the elderly – and looked at the number of white headed women there. It will be coming – as we are no longer “productive” or “working” – and therefore to be considered “surplus”. And children will be eliminated without penalty up to 5 years old. Needless to say, they were unimpressed. They were modern, educated women and knew… Read more »

6 years ago

The courts in recent years have gained way to much power. They decide cases by interpretation of the Constitution, not always the correct decision but we must abide by it. I say Congress take back your power the Constitution gives you and end the POWER TRIP the Courts and the President have veered off on. The Constitution trumps opinions first, not the other way around. Congress take responsibility for the office you wanted to work in and do your Constitutional duties not pan them out to others that have gone overreach. We will vote out any member not deciding on… Read more »

Charles Young
6 years ago

Why not have Congress fix this? Asking the courts to declare a law unconstitutional is what the Democrats do when they do not have enough support to convince Congress to do their job and fix bad laws. I do not believe the courts should have the final say on any law. Their rulings should be taken merely as recommendations to Congress. The courts have begun vetoing any law at any time for any reason, and the spineless Congress has allowed them to bestow this unconstitutional power upon themselves. I understand that the courts do not have veto power, but I… Read more »

Alan Dale Finley
6 years ago

If you’re not willing to stand up for GOD through the blood of Jesus Christ then you’re not worthy of Him. No human will ever come between me and my GOD. GOD has led many men into battle, and every time we were victorious. Why? Because of our undieing love for our Father in Heaven. Never quit, never give up, never look back. The victory is ours. This is GOD’s land this is his country. If I have to fight and die then I die with honer for I freely lay my life down at my Fathers feet with no… Read more »

6 years ago

Its really simple. people today say Its not bothering me,, so I won’t get involved.. When its stars bothering you bunch of wimps, it’s going to be to LATE. ” I’m old, but I still think I should be involved for my Grand children’s freedom. Religion gone, freedom will be gone. So keep letting the Muslims come in and proclaiming how PEACEFUL they are, one day they WILL have enough here to vote their own into politics and take over.

Wayne Miller
6 years ago

With the steady drumbeat of looser and looser morals among our youth pushed by the Democrats its no wonder the Churches are in trouble. When a major denomination questions who Jesus really was then it can only mean they no longer believe in the Bible. Two tenets of the Communist Manifesto are to corrupt the youth and marginalize religion. It seems we are headed down that slippery slope to disaster at a faster and faster pace. The values of hard work, being responsible for your family and your actions, going to Church, and trying to live a good life are… Read more »

Wayne Miller
6 years ago

While churches continue to move away from established doctrine that has been in use for centuries then membership will keep falling. We have churches who now question who Jesus was completely disregarding Biblical teachings. If that is a question they can’t find the answer to in the Bible then they aren’t looking hard enough. Two rules in the Communist Manifesto regards the corrupting of youth and the downplay of religion. It seems we are heading that way in a faster and faster movement.

6 years ago

What I read is people blaming Congress, the government, and “THEM”… A government is
a reflection of the governed, so what it all boils down to is, you get the government that
you deserve… The Holy Scripture says that God sets the rulers over you and He selects
the Basest of men/women to govern…If you want good government you must repent and
believe The Gospel… Jesus said ” Follow me”, I see very few doing that…Check out and get the real True answers…

6 years ago

The United States was given to God and was blessed for many years, that being said you all should read THE HARBINGER DECODED by Jonathan Cahn. For over 50 years or more we have turned away from God and the church and we are doing our own thing. Well how is that working for all of us. We are like sheep following OBAMA and all of Satan’s people in Washington D.C. We need to read our Bibles every day and ask God to guide and we need to follow him and his word .Read Isaiah 9:10 and read Revelations that… Read more »

Sandra Burgess
6 years ago

We can see that our freedom is challenged every day with leaders who favor and promote communistic/socialistic ideas in the US, wanting to dictate our lives from health care to what our children eat at school lunch. Core teaching and acceptance of abortion, gay marriage and legalization of drugs and other programs that we may feel forced upon our families. We need our religious leaders to strengthen their congregations to stand up for what is right! We need to STAND STRONG! Our ancestors came to the United States to get away from oppressive leaders in their various countries (and many… Read more »

Dr Phil
6 years ago

Today’s churches are soo whimpy & complacent! When I was pastoring a church in the 1990’s I told the members: we either give up our tax exempt status or risk not hearing the truth from the pulpit. They decided against it, so I left them.
A sad bunch of drones they were and probably still are.

If the gov’t is giving churches a tax break, they can dictate what they say & often do. I want no part of their liberal games and any church that does will never grow as God wants them to grow.

6 years ago

Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Rev Wright, etc. are all Black. It’s all politics.

6 years ago

To print out “just the article” highlight the text you want by left clicking your ‘mouse’….everything should be “blue” highlighted as you move the mouse to scroll up/scroll down the text. Next by holding the cursor steady, now right click the highlighted text and a drop down menu will ask what you want to do. You should be able to select COPY or PRINT PREVIEW. If you see only the article text in PRINT PREVIEW, then click on PRINT to get the article to your printer. Otherwise open a Microsoft WORD option on your tool bar, SELECT “Blank Page” then… Read more »

6 years ago

I’m confused about this. If churches have been deprived of speaking out on political issues, how did the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton advance? Why did churches in the 70’s boycott Gallo wine for communion in support of the Farmworkers Union? Does Westboro Baptist church have 501-c-3 status? If the pulpit would reinforce Judeo-Christian values when challenged by political/cultural elements, what law would be broken? Tax exemption for religious institutions relates to the first amendment. European countries were taxing churches which is what drove many faithful to the shores of America. Saving souls coincides with saving America’s heritage, under… Read more »

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