It’s Time to Restore American Churches’ Free Speech Rights

JIM CAMPBELL, ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM

For more than 60 years, the federal government has been sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong, threatening to punish houses of worship and their leaders for what they say.

The Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced in Congress earlier this week and, if enacted, would go a long way toward ending that.

Ever since 1954, when Congress enacted the Johnson Amendment, the IRS has been telling churches it has the power to monitor their speech.

Under that law, if pastors or other clergy say anything that (in the government’s opinion) is “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,” the feds can begin taxing them and potentially bring about their financial ruin.

But the history behind that speech-censoring law is not what you might expect.

Most people might assume that it was part of secularists’ relentless efforts to “separate church and state.” The story history tells is quite different.

In the 1950s, then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, faced stiff criticism from nonreligious nonprofit organizations. In order to silence their attacks against his future campaigns, he introduced a bill to ban all nonprofit groups from speaking for or against political candidates.

Interestingly enough, churches weren’t even the target of his proposal.