Saturday, October 1, 2011

Who & Who Not to Vote For

Sunday, October 2,2011 is Pulpit Freedom Sunday, where pastors around the country will speak openly about American politics. These religious leaders are performing this movement so that they may practice their free exercise of religion. With these sermons, the pastors are attempting to bring about religious debates in court against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The group behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday is the Alliance Defense Fund, which is a legal defense group, whose goals are to “keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel through the legal defense of religious freedom, the sactitiy of life, marriage, and the family,” and have been doing so since in 2008. This event sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, is a stand against “government intrusion in the pulpit.” Pastors want to be able to talk to their congregations about issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, and about the political candidates that support their religious beliefs about those topics and other religious sensitive ones like them. Unfortunately, by promoting candidates or opposing candidates in politics these pastors will be breaking the law, which is their clear intent. By doing so, they will be violating the Johnson Amendment, which was approved by Congress in 1954 which says that charities and church can not engage in any political campaign activity. What the alliance and pastors hope to achieve is to prove in court that this amendment is in violation of the First Amendment, and that pastors should be able to speak for or against political candidates.

There have been many secular verse non-secular issues in the United States, and in many cases it seems to be an issue of something government run is not secular enough, like prayer in a public school, but in this case it is something privately run by a religious organization calling for secularity. The pastors feel that their First Amendment rights are being violated because the IRS is dictating what they can and cannot say when it comes to moral and social issue and candidates running for office. Not only is their issue with the amendment, but with consequences of breaking the law. If pastors are investigated and found guilty of promoting or opposing a candidate running for office, their church may lose their tax exemption. These religious leaders feel they are being censored by this unconstitutional law, and are fighting it. Their plan is to tape their sermons and mail the tapes to the IRS to give them clear-cut evidence that they are going against the amendment.

In this particular case, I think that the amendment banning pastors to speak about political issues from their pulpit is unconstitutional. I feel that it is an infringement on their First Amendment rights. They are putting political candidates in a religious perspective for their congregation, and the members of that congregation can agree or disagree with their analysis. It is not as if the pastors are going to the polls with their members and forcing them to pick candidates that agree with their religion’s beliefs.

After reading this article, I remembered reading about how Rick Perry went to visit Liberty University and talked about his religious epiphany as a young man. By relating to the students of the college through his religion, he was attempting to gain votes. If a future presidential candidate can campaign using religion, why can’t the pastors join in?


Harry R. said...

I find the issue Elena has brought up to be very interesting. In our nation, there are many laws which are never enforced. If a law is not enforced, then it is, in fact, not a law. As such, I feel that the IRS and our federal government by extension has already accepted the unconstitutionality of the Johnson Amendment as argued by these religious groups. I also feel that a parallel could be drawn to some public school systems where some teachers display clear support for one political party or another, suggesting the constitutionality of the speech in question.

Sophie K said...

Historically, churches have been perceived as essential to maintaining a peaceful and safe society. Pastors, priests, rabbis, etc. were free to say what they wanted to say about politics until the enactment of the Johnson Amendment in 1954. That year, Sen. Johnson faced intense opposition in his re-election bid from Christians and anti-Communists. In hopes of quieting this opposition group, Johnson prohibited non-profits, including churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates. I think the Johnson Amendment completely violates the First Amendment. Pastors should be free to speak out about current moral and political issues. Harry R. pointed out that a parallel could be drawn to public school teachers endorsing certain religions but I don’t think that is a fair comparison. Children are mandated to attend school, whereas no one is forced to listen to their local pastor or priest opinions on political issues.

Harry R. said...

In response to Sophie, while I understand that schools and religious meetings do not have the same mandatory aspect, they are both institutions which profess to be apolitical in their core beliefs and receive some governmental support. As such, if political speech in churches is disallowed by the Johnson Amendment, I feel that this precedent may result in legal action about political discussions in schools. I feel that, in both of these circumstances, there should not be government regulation.

Christy said...

I think the Johnson Amendment is absolutely absurd and directly violates the First Amendment. I do not have statistical proof but I am sure that a large amount of church leaders have voiced their opinions on presidential candidates and political views. I am actually surprised that this Amendment was ever passed and think the church leaders definitely have a strong backing for this case. Church leaders should not be silenced before their congregation on political issues.

Christopher J. said...

I wholeheartedly agree that the Johnson Amendment is in violation of the First Amendment. Church leaders should be able to speak their mind just like any other citizen. The IRS should not be used as a government tool to dictate the content of a religious sermon. However, just because someone has a right to do something does not mean they should do it. Politics is a dirty business and churches should not lower themselves by becoming involved. Clergy should be able to express official church positions on political issues, but they should stop short of actually endorsing any political candidate/party. People are smart and will be able to deduce who the church believes they should vote for by analyzing church positions on various topics. Actually endorsing candidates/parties is dangerous because it sets the stage for corruption, not to mention causes the church and the government (organizations that are supposed to be separate and autonomous) to become too close. The church should have the right to endorse a candidate without fear of punishment, but it should be a right that is never exercised.