Thoughts on the ADF "Pulpit Freedom Sunday"

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Iowa pastor preaches politics to oust 3 justices who backed gay marriage


The Rev. Cary K. Gordon has a prayer he recites as he campaigns against the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who are up for retention in next month's election.

"Dear God," he says, "please allow the IRS to attack my church, so I can take them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Gordon, an associate pastor at Cornerstone World Outreach in Sioux City, says he will defy federal law this month when he urges the congregation to vote to not retain the three justices, who participated in a unanimous ruling that allowed same-sex couples to wed. His mass mailing to 1,000 church leaders in September prompted one national religious liberty group to file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service.

Advocates of the separation of church and state and some religious leaders say Gordon's plan is illegal, immoral and an attempt to falsely frame his dispute as a freedom-of-speech violation. The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., called Gordon's actions one of the most outrageous attempts to politicize a church that he has ever seen.

Others, such as Jeff Mullen, senior pastor of Point of Grace Church in Waukee, are urging Iowa pastors to communicate to their congregations the "biblical mandate for involvement in local and national elections."

Religious leaders on both sides of the gay marriage debate voiced strong opinions after last year's Iowa Supreme Court ruling. But on the Nov. 2 ballot question of whether to retain the three justices, many say they plan to stay silent.

The push by some churches comes in the heat of what could become the tightest retention election in history. A recent Iowa Poll found that 44% of Iowans who plan to cast a ballot in the retention election say they will vote to retain all three justices. Forty percent will vote to remove all three, and 16% say they want to retain some.

An IRS spokesman declined to comment.

Political campaign ban stems from '54 measure

Gordon's campaign, "Project Jeremiah 2010," is named for the Old Testament prophet who rails against forces that "defiled my land, and made mine heritage an abomination," and those who "handle the law."

Gordon said he has recruited leaders at more than 100 churches, which he declined to name, who will speak against Justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit on the three consecutive Sundays before Election Day. The Liberty Institute, a socially conservative nonprofit group in Texas, has promised free legal protection to any church that joins the campaign.

The ban stems from a 1954 congressional amendment offered by then-U.S. Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, which prohibited churches and charities from engaging in political campaign activity. Churches cannot advocate for or against a specific candidate, but are free to lobby for or against ballot measures or speak about political issues.

Churches that violate the law can be warned, fined, or — in extreme cases — have their tax-exempt status revoked.

Gordon's plan is one of several efforts by conservative churches to challenge the IRS on a law they view as unconstitutional. The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona organization that promotes conservative biblical values, has sponsored a "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" in recent years, a day when pastors speak specifically about candidates for office.

Connie Ryan Terrell, executive director of the Iowa Interfaith Alliance, which supports gay marriage, said several church leaders contacted her when they received Gordon's letter. The alliance, working in conjunction with the "Justice, Not Politics" campaign to promote impartial courts, has not taken a stand on the retention vote.

"What the Cornerstone Church is doing is simply illegal and, in a lot of people's estimations, immoral," Terrell said. "Synagogues, churches and clergy can talk about the issue. They can talk about how their faith informs the issue. But they cannot cross that line and tell people how to vote."

Pastor: 'We are the authority' on marriage'

Pastors to defy IRS with endorsements


Two Minnesota clergymen plan to thumb their noses at the federal government Sunday by endorsing political candidates from their pulpits.

In doing so, they hope the IRS will come after them, allowing them to wage a legal fight asserting their First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

"I'm going to violate the law and challenge it because I believe it to be entirely unconstitutional," said the Rev. Brad Brandon, pastor of the Berean Bible Baptist Church in Hastings. "I'd like to see something happen so I can get my free speech rights restored."

Hastings Pastor Defends Endorsing Candidates


Brandon says the Johnson amendment of 1954 is what prohibits clergy from endorsing candidates. He wants it overturned.

"I'd love to see the IRS do something. I'd love to fight this in court and I would love to see a judge look me in the eye and say that the Johnson Amendment is constitutional," said Brandon.

Brandon says he did this to draw attention to a system he believes is taking away the freedoms of U.S. citizens.

Americans United files IRS complaint against church that endorsed Emmer


Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service Monday against Hastings’ Berean Bible Baptist Church and its pastor, Brad Brandon, for violating the ban on tax-exempt churches endorsing candidates. Brandon endorsed a slate of conservative candidates during his Sunday sermon after challenging the “liberal media” to report on his activities. AU urged the IRS to “investigate this matter and fully enforce our laws.”

AU cited the Minnesota Independent’s reporting on Brandon’s threats to endorse and his actual endorsement on Sunday.

“I believe this evidence indicates that the church violated federal law — and did so knowingly,” wrote the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of AU. “In fact, Pastor Brandon — the top official at the church — does not deny this and seems eager to be investigated by the IRS.”

On Sunday, Brandon endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, Republican Dan Severson for Secretary of State, Republican Chris Barden for Attorney General and Republican Pat Anderson for State Auditor. He also endorsed Republican Randy Demmer in Minnesota’s First Congressional District, Rep. John Kline in Minnesota’s Second, Republican Teresa Collett in the Fourth, Rep. Michele Bachmann in the Sixth, and Lee Byberg in the Seventh. His two non-GOP nods went to independent Lynne Torgerson in the Fifth Congressional District and Constitution Party candidate Richard “George” Burton in the Eighth.

Brandon had been threatening the endorsements for a week on his radio program. To the “liberal media” he said, “Little immature human beings that are so wrapped up in your emotions that you couldn’t make a rational decision if it killed you, so please make this one decision for me — do it based on emotion. Do it out of hatred for me. File a complaint against mean old Pastor Brandon who is going to come out and endorse candidates.”

According to Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for AU, there’s a wide range of consequences that can occur when a non-profit endorses a candidate.

“All non-profit groups holding the 501(c)(3) designation — which includes houses of worship — may not intervene in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office,” he said. “Those who violate the law can lose their tax exemption, be audited, be fined or suffer lesser penalties, such as warnings from the IRS.”

Wayne Grudem: Pastors, not the government, should decide when they can speak about candidates from the pulpit


ADF hopes that the IRS will follow through and try to revoke the tax-exempt status of one of these churches. If the IRS does so, ADF will immediately file a lawsuit to test the constitutionality of the Johnson amendment. If this ever comes to trial, ADF attorneys are confident that the amendment will be struck down as unconstitutional.

I agree with this effort and support ADF and these pastors in this challenge. The government should not be dictating to pastors and churches what they can and cannot preach about. Because of the Johnson amendment and an entire atmosphere of fear and excessive caution that have surrounded it, the crucial voice of the church in society has been muzzled for too long. It is time for the courts to overturn this law in accordance with the ringing declaration of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”

Comments: In response to Grudem
  • It is illegal: "in 1954, Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code to restrict the speech of non-profit organizations." Response: We agree that it is illegal. I grant his point that it has not been tested and not been reviewed by the SCOTUS. Nevertheless it is illegal. That alone should give one pause
  • It's unnecessary:
    • Pastors are clearly free to address moral issues. It has happened and continues to happen from pulpits in America. Issues such as same sex marriage, the evils of abortion etc are clearly permitted and has not been challenged
    • People are smart enough to connect the dots: Abortion is murder, candidate A supports choice, I am accountable for my vote, a vote for candidate A is to support abortion rights, etc.
  • Political activism is unedifying. People are bombarded with political speech (TV ads, media, mailings, etc) daily and especially in the lead up to election day. The great truths of the Bible and the message of our glorious Savior are much more edifying than political speech!
  • It''s not really a free speech issue. Outside of the pulpit the Pastor is free to speak as much as he wants about politics. He can blog about it (personal blog), put a bumper sticker on his car, put signs in his yard, personally support or campaign for any cause or candidate, etc.
  • It's a 501(c)(3) issue. The government provides some pretty amazing benefits to churches: no income tax, no property tax, a major portion of ordained Pastors' salary is exempt from income tax, freedom from sales tax, tax deductibility of donations, etc. If a church wants to enjoy those benefits, follow the rules for 501(c)(3). If a church elects to reject those restrictions, forfeit the 501(c)(3) protections.

More on the Alliance Defense Fund here

1 comment:

  1. My take on this is really simple; if the pastor is preaching from the pulpit, I expect the topic to be God's Word. As I do not see the names of any of the candidates advocated in Scripture, if my pastor advocates candidates by name instead of preaching the Word, he is not doing his job.


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