Earlier this week on a conference call, President Obama and his top healthcare officials charged religious leaders across America with spreading a new kind of gospel – the good news of nationalized healthcare. Isn’t it convenient how the pulpit is barred from promoting political opinion, until it is the opinion of the President? According to Politico, “Obama instructed faith leaders to treat the new law as settled fact and use their perches of power to convey that message to congregants and friends.”
Obama ignores the fact that a bill becoming law does not equate to a citizen becoming a cheerleader. President Obama knows that some of his strongest opposition to his healthcare overhaul – now the Affordable Care Act – came from evangelicals, Catholics and other religious pro-life groups who argued that the bill did not provide adequate restrictions on abortion funding. Naturally Obama would want these leaders in particular to guide their flocks to acceptance.
Ironically, or perhaps not, this Sunday September 26 marks the Alliance Defense Fund’s third annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” during which 100 pastors nationwide will exercise their right to free religious expression. Participants will preach sermons related to biblical perspectives on positions of electoral candidates or current government officials. This is despite and in response to an IRS rule that is often used to bully the pulpit into silence.
Preachers spoke freely from the pulpit until 1954 when Congress passed a tax code amendment that prohibits any speech favoring or opposing a political candidate. According to the ADF, ever since the Johnson Amendment was added to the Federal Tax Code, the IRS has increased its guidance of the law – and its vagueness. The IRS now investigates churches for politically-charged discourse, and threatens many with the loss of tax-exemptions. Such surveillance and intimidation has stifled many pastors in fear.
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said, “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to apply the teachings of Scripture to specific candidates or elections. As in years past, the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2010 are taking a stand against being intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”
Stanley added, “ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit; we want to get government out of the pulpit.” But “government in the pulpit” seems to be exactly what Obama desires – “government in the pulpit” to censor pastors’ voices, except when they praise the President’s agenda.