Three’s Company on Free Speech
President Trump didn’t waste any time proving his critics wrong. People who doubted whether the Republican would make good on his promises learned pretty quickly that there’s nothing empty about this president’s word. From the unborn to immigration, the new White House has been working its way through a long list of priorities — which, we know from last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, includes the Johnson Amendment. From almost the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has highlighted this 1954 law as one of the worst abusers of free speech in America.
And plenty of conservatives agree. After eight years of the Obama IRS breathing down the necks of nonprofits and churches, threatening to take away their tax exempt status, the Johnson Amendment has become just another way for liberals to crackdown on pastors’ ability to speak openly about political issues and candidates. That changes now, say conservatives like Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who together introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act to stop the government from muting pastors who apply God’s laws to today’s debates. They, like President Trump, think it’s time to put an end to this culture of intimidation — especially since that wasn’t the purpose of the measure to begin with! In a joint op-ed for the Washington Post, the trio talks about their new bill and what it would mean for the pulpits of America.
“Specifically, our legislation would ensure that all 501(c)(3) organizations, including nonprofits, charities, and houses of worship are legally able to make comments about a political issue within the scope of their normal activities. An environmental nonprofit that sends out an e-newsletter educating its readers about the climate positions of candidates wouldn’t have to fear an audit. A church employee who distributes election voter guides (for which her church did not incur any cost for distribution) could not be punished by the IRS.”
As I said on CNN over the weekend, this has nothing to do with money being expended on political campaigns. And it certainly doesn’t mean that churches will become the new arm of the Republican Party — or either party. As Lankford, Scalise, and Hice pointed out, “Every American should be able to speak freely about their conscience and convictions — no matter what their job is.”
“Leaders and employees of other entities that receive federal funding — such as hospitals and universities — are welcome to advocate for political causes and contribute to them,” the leaders write. “The IRS does not threaten to punish them when they engage in political speech. Critics who say this blurs the line between church and state misunderstand the principle. Thomas Jefferson’s ‘separation’ coinage doesn’t mean that there is a wall of separation between the two; it just means that the state should not have control over the church, nor shall the church maintain control over the state.”
The bottom line is this: government bureaucrats should not serve as bouncers at the door of free speech and religious freedom. If you agree, contact your leaders and encourage them to support the Free Speech Fairness Act!
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