On Sunday, October 2, hundreds of pastors all over the country did something an astonishingly large number of their fellow Americans had forgotten they had the God-given right to do: namely, address political issues and candidates during a worship service.
Across the nearly 60 years since then U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson pushed through an amendment to the IRS code threatening any church or pastor who gets involved in politics with IRS reprisals – specifically, the loss of the church’s tax-exempt status – conventional wisdom has congealed around the idea that pastors must stay out of politics. As extraordinary as that assertion is to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of our nation’s history, it’s a theme that’s been hammered home unrelentingly for decades by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
As a result, pastors have been tacitly forbidden from saying in their pulpit what they’d be perfectly within their rights to say 50 feet away, in a church aisle or out on the sidewalk. What’s worse, they’ve been banned from expressing their opinion specifically because they are pastors.
Consider what happens when an issue such as, say, abortion, comes up for community debate, as the voting public considers a bill or assesses a candidate whose feelings on the subject are well known. Doctors will address their local medical gatherings, lawyers will argue at their bar associations, social workers will write op-eds, politicians will give speeches, and the news media will interview representatives of each of those professions, since some aspect of the abortion question impacts each of those professional areas.
In each case, the qualified professional is legally allowed, and even publicly encouraged, to address specifics of the issue, urge his peers to share his point of view, and advocate for or against a given candidate and his views.
And yet, while no sane person could suggest that abortion is an issue without a profound spiritual dimension, any effort by a local pastor to shine a biblical or theological spotlight on the issue in his professional setting, before an audience interested in that specific dimension, is met with outrage, tax threats, and the assertion that the Constitution forbids preachers from talking “politics.”
The same Constitution, mind you, whose First Amendment states that:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.