Thursday, 14 August 2014
IRS Would Lose in Court Battle Against Churches Over 'Pulpit Freedom,' Says NRB Head
Churches would win a case against the Internal Revenue Service
if the government agency revokes their tax-exempt statuses for
political speech, National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry
Johnson predicted amid news that the IRS has agreed to
investigate churches that engage in political talk.
"Let's just say theoretically that the IRS does revoke the 501(c)
(3) status of some church because of political speech, let's just
say that happens. I'm just certain that the church would, I hope,
challenge that in the courts and it would go all the way to the
Supreme Court," Johnson, who is a pastor and also heads an
organization representing many non-profit media groups, told
The Christian Post.
"I think right now it would be a 5-4 decision," added Johnson
regarding a Supreme Court decision. "It's impossible to predict,
but when you look at how this court, let's say in the Hobby
Lobby case, when you look at how this court treats religious
liberties and these kinds of issues, you got a count, a 5-4
decision. So right now the IRS would lose," he predicted.
In late July, FFRF revealed its "victory" after the IRS settled a
lawsuit filed by the group after agreeing to investigate churches
that it claims violate their tax-exempt status by engaging in
"This is a victory, and we're pleased with this development in
which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in
place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering
provisions," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor had said in
Gaylor threatened that the group "could refile the suit if anti-
electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against
rogue political churches."
In response, the NRB issued a statement last week saying it is
concerned that the agreement could lead to "de facto government censorship of the pulpit."
During the interview, Johnson explained to CP why churches
would "have a constitutional case" when it comes to keeping
their tax-exempt status even if they engage in polticial speech.
The NRB president believes that the Johnson Amendment –
which changed the tax code to prohibit nonprofit organizations,
including churches, from endorsing political candidates while
exempt from federal income tax – runs contrary to the rights and
protection given in the First Amendment.
"The First Amendment is very clear. Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, so we're not going to
have a state church, we're not going to have a church state.
That's very clear and that's OK. We would agree, I'm sure, with
these atheists. But it goes on to say, nor prohibiting the free
exercise of religion. So Congress can make no law prohibiting
the free exercise of religion," he pointed out.
He contends that if the IRS were to enforce the 1954 law in any
way, it would hinder pastors from exercising their faith.
"If they come into churches and say you can't talk about
challenges, public policy. You can't talk about the way people
live, you can't talk about marriage, you can't talk about abortion,
you can't talk about war, you can't talk about business, well
Christianity is about everything," Johnson argues. "So this idea
that pulpit speech should be censored is just foreign to the First
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley
agreed. "We believe that the Johnson Amendment is blatantly
unconstitutional; it needs to be struck down in federal court."
ADF is also paying close attention to the agreement struck
between the tax agency and FFRF. In fact, the non-profit legal
organization is filing a Freedom of Information Act request urging the IRS to make the modified procedures public. It expects the IRS to respond to the FOIA by September 11.
Stanley said ADF also hopes to bring a challenge to the Johnson
Amendment through its project Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a day
when churches demonstrate their religious freedom by speaking
about political candidates and elections from a biblical