“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Recently the mayor of Houston, Texas requested some area pastors turn over their sermons to the city. Fortunately, this story has taken a turn for the better, but this raises another question. Have churches been wrongfully excluded from being protected by the first amendment in the bill of rights? Are churches and other 501 (c)(3) organizations having their speech censored?
In 1954 under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson a law was passed prohibiting churches from participating in campaign activities on behalf of candidates. Since then the ban has strengthened and the freedom of churches to participate in those activities has been limited more severely. Prior to 1954 churches were free to endorse candidates and participate freely in campaign activities on behalf of certain candidates. One might question the wisdom of engaging in such activities, the last thing I want is to come to church and hear a sermon endorsing or speaking against a particular candidate. This post isn't about the wisdom of churches engaging in such activities, it is about whether the government should prevent such activities.
The first amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." As I read it, there is nothing in this that makes exceptions for religious organizations. Based on the 1954 law and the strengthening of it in 1987 churches may be prevented from addressing immorality in government if it involves a particular candidate or group of candidates.
You might be thinking, "I don't want to go to church and hear about politics." Generally speaking, I agree with you. However, this isn't about your preference or mine. This is about freedom and censorship. Churches have generally been compliant since 1954, until recently. There is good reason for this. Many of our founding fathers correctly recognized the important influence the church had on the government promoting morality and good behavior. Just think, if the candidates had just a little fear of being condemned by the church, how might their behavior change? If churches were free to get up and condemn a candidate based on their moral behavior they might be more inclined to behave in a more moral manner if it might cost them votes.
In the end, everyone is allowed to speak freely about political candidates, why not church's and other 501 (c) (3) organizations?
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.