1,000 Pastors to Claim Free Speech

26 Sep

From Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom:

The number of pastors registered to participate in Alliance Defending Freedom’s fifth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday has exceeded 1,000, nearly doubling last year’s participation. Registration continues until Oct. 7, so the number continues to rise.

The registered pastors have committed to preach sermons that present biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates. In so doing, they will exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment that activist groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.

“Pastors should decide what they preach from the pulpit, not the IRS,” said Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “It’s outrageous for pastors and churches to be threatened or punished by the government for applying biblical teachings to all areas of life, including candidates and elections. The question is, ‘Who should decide the content of sermons: pastors or the IRS?’”

“No government-recognized status can be conditioned upon the surrender of a constitutionally protected right,” Stanley explained. “No one would suggest a pastor give up his church’s tax-exempt status if he wants to keep his constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure or cruel and unusual punishment. Likewise, no one should be asking him to give up his church’s tax-exempt status to be able to keep his constitutionally protected right to free speech.”

Pulpit Freedom Sunday, on Oct. 7 this year, is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday began in 2008 with 33 participating pastors. Participation increased each year, with last year’s participation blossoming to 539. This year’s registered participation is currently 1,050 and growing.

A national phone survey conducted by Alliance Defending Freedom and LifeWay Research with 1,000 randomly drawn senior pastors prior to last year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday found that nearly nine out of 10 Protestant pastors believe that the government should not regulate their sermons.

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