Pulpit Initiative | Pulpit Freedom Sunday

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Description:  Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. Pulpit Freedom Sunday encourages pastors to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to speak truth into every area of life from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom also hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.

ADF joins letter to congressional leaders encouraging prioritization of Free Speech Fairness Act

Bill would restrict enforcement of Johnson Amendment against churches, for whom law was never intended
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Attorney sound bite:  Erik Stanley

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom joined 47 other signatories to a letter delivered to congressional leaders this week that encourages them to make hearings and votes on the Free Speech Fairness Act a priority.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Jody Hice, R-Ga., in February, would allow non-profit organizations to speak freely in the ordinary course of their business on all matters of life, including elections and candidates, if they choose to do so. ADF has been actively seeking to end enforcement of the Johnson Amendment against churches through its Pulpit Freedom Sunday effort since 2008.

“Americans don’t need a federal tax agency to be the speech police of churches, which have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves what they want to say or not say,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley. “By removing the threat of an IRS investigation and potential penalties based simply on what a pastor says from the pulpit, this bill brings the law into conformity with the First Amendment. It fixes a restriction enacted in 1954 that was never intended to affect churches but has been used to intimidate them ever since.”

“Not only is it unconstitutional, but the Johnson Amendment has been inconsistently enforced by the IRS, causing many non-profits confusion over how and when they may speak about political issues and candidates…,” the letter explains. “These inconsistencies have had the effect of significantly chilling the freedom to believe and speak that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

“For the last decade, many churches have participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday and have spoken from the pulpit on political matters,” the letter continues. “They in turn have sent their sermons to the IRS to elicit a response and a court challenge of the Johnson Amendment. The IRS has not investigated these churches, but its guidance has not changed, and churches are left in limbo. In addition, every year, organizations hostile to religious liberty threaten churches with letters promising to report them to the IRS, which has also contributed to the stifling of speech under the Johnson Amendment.”

The Free Speech Fairness Act allows limited political activity that is made in the ordinary course of a 501(c)(3) organization’s regular and customary activities, so long as the organization does not incur more than minimal incremental costs. Thus, this legislation respects free speech without allowing tax-exempt organizations to purchase political ads for or against a candidate for public office.

“The government can’t base any tax exemption on a requirement that a church or any other non-profit organization surrender a constitutionally protected freedom like free speech,” Stanley explained. “We hope that House leaders will consider this fix a priority in light of the Johnson Amendment’s constitutional defects.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Additional resources: Pulpit Initiative | Pulpit Freedom Sunday

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Previous news releases:

  • 2017-05-03: ADF attorney to testify on free speech of churches Thursday
  • 2017-01-31: News conference Wednesday on Free Speech Fairness Act
  • 2016-09-28: ADF: Free Speech Fairness Act is legally sound, needed
  • 2016-09-27: News conference Wednesday on new Free Speech Fairness Act
  • 2015-01-28: ADF joins panel discussion on vague tax laws muzzling nonprofits, churches
  • 2014-10-10: Pulpit Freedom participation exceeds 1,800 pastors, continues through Election Day
  • 2014-10-02: Pulpit Freedom Sunday vs. IRS
  • 2013-06-07: Pastors to again stand for pulpit freedom this weekend
  • 2012-10-05: Record 1,500 pastors to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday this weekend
  • 2012-10-01: All present for pulpit freedom: pastors in 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico will fight IRS
  • 2012-09-26: Grand total: More than 1,000 pastors to challenge IRS
  • 2011-09-30: Participation in ADF Pulpit Freedom Sunday more than quadruples over last year
  • 2011-09-12: 86 percent of pastors say gov’t shouldn’t regulate sermons under threat of revoking tax exemption
  • 2010-09-27: Participants in annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday increase for third year
  • 2010-09-23: Pastors ready for third-annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 26
  • 2010-06-22: ADF agrees to represent SD church reported to IRS
  • 2010-02-17: ADF attorney to debate at Stanford Law School on IRS religious speech restrictions
  • 2009-10-05: Maine churches threatened with IRS complaints for supporting marriage
  • 2009-09-24: Pastors ready for second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 27
  • 2009-07-28: IRS withdraws audit on Minn. pastor’s sermons
  • 2008-09-29: ADF prepared to defend churches against possible IRS free speech investigations
  • 2008-09-25: Pulpit Freedom Sunday
  • 2008-05-09: ADF announces new initiative to reclaim pastors’ First Amendment rights

  • Erik Stanley: How to fix the Johnson Amendment (Wall Street Journal, 2017-02-09)
  • Erik Stanley: Pulpit freedom hasn’t existed in America since 1954 (CNS News, 2016-08-17)
  • Jeffery Ventrella: Politics and the pulpit: Profane, provocative, or prudent? (Part 1) (Canon and Culture, 2014-11-03)
  • Erik Stanley: IRS to churches: To exercise free speech, give up your tax-exempt status (CNS News, 2014-10-15)
  • Erik Stanley: IRS apologizes, more apologies necessary (Townhall, 2013-05-30)
  • Erik Stanley: Government can’t require churches to abandon constitutional freedoms (Townhall, 2012-10-08)
  • Alan Sears: Why pastors must be free to preach on politics (Townhall, 2011-10-05)
  • Erik Stanley: IRS has no business telling pastors how to choose their words (Washington Times, 2011-10-02)
  • Erik Stanley: What is Pulpit Freedom Sunday all about? (Townhall, 2011-09-14)

Legal documents, related news, and other related resources available in the right panel when this page is viewed at ADFmedia.org.