Free Market Pulpit
by Bill Lockwood
When the British first landed in New York during the Revolutionary War, their first order of business was to burn down one half of the churches. The obvious reason was that the pulpits of America were, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘ablaze with righteousness’ to free us from the British oppressor. The Frenchman would say, “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.” Or, as stated in the sacred text, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
But many pulpits today have lost that spirited edge. However, it is more than the “spirited edge” that has been destroyed. It is FREEDOM of SPEECH. As the federal government nanny state curtailed what can and cannot be spoken in the churches, many Christian communities simply grow accustomed to receiving their marching orders from Uncle Sam. In place of a “Free Market Pulpit,” we have now a manipulated lectern. Instead of blazing righteousness against Obama’s trans-sexual bathroom edict, they remain silent.
How Did This Occur?
The year was 1954. Lyndon Johnson was in the Senate, having been first elected in 1948. Conservative and liberal historians agree that his election to the Senate had been won by massive voter fraud. He had won by only “87” votes. Coke Stevenson, his opponent, had challenged his election even showing evidence that hundreds of votes had been faked. With court injunctions Johnson blocked Stevenson’s efforts. Now in 1954 the liberal Johnson was being hammered by anti-communist groups, which in those day, were frequently directed by informed preachers.
Johnson therefore retaliated by pushing through Congress language into the IRS code that prohibited non-profit organizations, including churches, from actively participating in political elections. Conservative churches in Texas had been a thorn in the side to Johnson. Now he had his gag order in place. This in spite of the fact that the First Amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech …” Thumbing their nose at the Constitution, a compliant Congress went along with devious Johnson on this removal of First Amendment protection of rights.
What Shall We Say To These Things?
First, as stated above, it is a blatant violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Americans have for too long been complacent about this matter. Consider the words of IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson at the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio on February 24, 2006. “Freedom of speech and religious liberty are essential elements of our democracy. But the Supreme Court has in essence held that tax exemption is a privilege, not a right, stating, ‘Congress has not violated [an organization’s] First Amendment rights by declining to subsidize its First Amendment activities.’”
In other words, the tax code extends “privileges” not “rights” by means of exemption. And, extending or removing this exemption status is reward or punishment for speech, clear and simple. Thus, churches operate under threat of punishment for “political” speech or activity. Note Everson’s language: “Freedom of speech and religious liberty are essential elements ….BUT…” A clear signal that liberty is lost. Just as the government holds hostage various states by means of federal money extracted by heavy taxation it also threatens churches with its tax code.
This is the problem with BIG government that transgresses its assigned Constitutional role. It takes in hand to decide what it will and will not allow. In this case it is free speech that is hampered. Just who is to decide if pulpit speech is “political” or not? Will preaching against abortion be considered political? Many liberal politicians think that is exactly what is taking place when they hear sermons against killing the unborn. Will preaching against the sin of homosexuality be penalized as that lifestyle choice is now becoming “protected” by government manipulation? American Christians should be galvanized into resistance against the government sitting in the seat of Herod deciding what teaching may issue forth from our churches. Curtailing FREEDOM is what is occurring.
Second, many church-goers perhaps agree with the IRS that churches should not be mentioning political issues from the pulpit. But that again gets into the question as to who defines what is political? The main issue here is that America was founded upon freedom of the marketplace, and that includes the marketplace of ideas, religion included. What if worshippers do not appreciate what is being preached in a particular church? They have the option, just as in the economic realm, to go elsewhere. Purchase a different product; go elsewhere to worship—find a teacher more to their liking.
How did churches manage to maintain their integrity prior to the Johnson Amendment of 1954? Without Big Brother Government watching out for the churches it is a wonder that churches survived. Policing the pulpit is all for our own good, we are told.
Third, where is the IRS in monitoring the National Council of Churches as they propagate their radical socialistic agenda, even supporting President Obama’s nationalized health care? Where are the G-men from Washington, D.C. curtailing the Green Agenda as is espoused by the false theologians at the NCC? It is amazing to witness the blatant double-standard at play here. Only conservative churches seem to be singled out—such as are opposed to the socialistic agenda issuing forth from Washington.
Preachers have not only a Constitutional right to address issues of the day in their churches, but an obligation to do so. This includes speaking out boldly pertaining to the behavior of elected officials or their ungodly policies. If we believe in the Free Market idea of the economy, and we do, we need also to uphold the Free Market concept of the Pulpit. Church-goers are adults who have the right to support or shun the pulpit of their choice without government watchdogs overseeing all of the flocks.