ADF attorney to debate at Stanford Law School on IRS religious speech restrictions

Erik Stanley faces off against Barry Lynn on constitutionality of Johnson Amendment
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WHO: ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley and others
WHAT: Debate at Stanford Law School: “The Pulpit and Politics” Johnson Amendment debate
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. PST
WHERE: Stanford Law School, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Munger Building 4, Paul Brest Hall, Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. — Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley will participate in a debate Thursday at Stanford Law School on the constitutionality of Internal Revenue Service restrictions on the free speech of pastors.  The debate is being co-sponsored by ADF and The Federalist Society at Stanford.

“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government.  Under the First Amendment, a pastor, not the IRS, determines what his sermon will say,” said Stanley, head of the ADF Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort to have the IRS’s Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional. “Pastors spoke freely from the pulpit without worrying about tax exemptions until 1954. That’s when Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the tax code to prohibit any speech about a political candidate. But IRS rules don’t trump the Constitution, and the First Amendment certainly trumps the Johnson Amendment.”

Also participating in the debate is Prof. Andrew Koppelman of Northwestern University School of Law, who, like Stanley, will argue in favor of striking down the Johnson Amendment. Arguing in favor of the Johnson Amendment will be Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Prof. Donald Tobin of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Since the addition of the Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code in 1954, the IRS has issued increasingly vague guidance on the law, which limits the First Amendment rights of pastors speaking from the pulpit, but has continued to launch investigations while avoiding court review of the constitutionality of its actions.  Groups such as AU have taken advantage of the vagueness of the tax law and have reported churches to the IRS in an attempt to remove their tax-exempt status.

“The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS,” Stanley explained. “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to be critical of blatant immorality in government and foregoing opportunities to praise moral government leaders. Pastors should speak freely form their pulpits without fearing any government censorship or control over what they say.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.