Archive for the ‘Churches and Politics’ Category

Breaking: New Speak Up Church Blog

April 26, 2010

We are proud to announce a new fully integrated, socially connected Speak Up Church Blog.

The new Speak Up Church blog can be found at http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/

*We will no longer be posting or updating https://speakupchurch.wordpress.com/*

If you subscribed to the RSS feed – the new RSS feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/SpeakUpChurchBlog

Screen shot of the new Speak Up Church Blog

Be sure to bookmark or favorite the new blog site: http://blog.speakupmovement.org/church/

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Federal Judge Halts Wisconsin Election Law

April 9, 2010

State campaign finance laws are usually very burdensome and perplexing.  Nonetheless, some states require churches and other groups to comply with these complex laws simply for speaking out on important moral issues that are on the local ballot, such as marriage.  That requires a church to register with the state and fill out reams of paperwork.

ADF is always on the lookout for these types of government restrictions on churches and people of faith, and has successfully challenged such laws in the past.  So we were glad to hear that last week a Wisconsin federal judge halted enforcement of a state law that required residents to register with the state and jump through all kinds of other bureaucratic hoops just to communicate with fellow citizens on a ballot issue.  The case was brought by Jim Bopp’s James Madison Center for Free Speech, on behalf of a resident who wanted to distribute post cards to his neighbors to encourage them to vote no on a local liquor ballot initiative.

It’s a good win and reaffirms that people shouldn’t have to register with the state before they speak out on important moral issues. In this case, it means that the citizen who challenged the law can advocate for the ballot measure without having to register with the state and submit reams of paperwork.  And it means that next time there’s an important moral issue on the ballot, churches will also be free to advocate for it without fearing prosecution if they don’t register with the state first. 

Incidentally, as a refresher for what pastors and churches can and can’t do during an election, you might want to check out our “Guidelines for Political Activities by Churches and Pastors.”

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

City zoning officials to churches: “Show me the money!”

April 2, 2010

In the 1996 hit movie Jerry Mcguire, Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character, Rod Tidwell, demanded that Jerry Mcguire, his sports agent played by Tom Cruise, shout the infamous phrase, “Show me the money!”  

This is what city zoning officials across America are shouting to churches who come before them seeking permission to be located within the city.  “You want to be located in our town?  Then show me the money!  Show me the revenue stream.  Show me the tax base that will be generated.  Show me the development that will ensue.  In short, show me the money!”

In Yuma, Arizona, city officials denied Centro Familiar Cristiano a permit to operate a church in a building it had purchased on Main Street.  The reason for the denial?  According to the city, a downtown church was inconsistent with the economic development the city was trying to obtain in that area. 

Yuma is not alone.  Churches across America have been harassed by city officials for no other reason than city officials do not see the economic value of having a church located within the town. 

My, how times have changed.  In years gone by, churches were valued members of society.  Cities recognized the valuable role that churches played in protecting and developing public morality.  But in today’s world where big brother government is trying to take over the role of the church, city zoning officials are seeing churches as impediments to growth rather than a foundation for growth.   

Fortunately for churches, all is not lost.  Just like a broken clock is right twice a day, Congress got it right in 2000 when it passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act.  This law protects churches from overzealous city officials seeking to thwart church growth in pursuit of the almighty dollar.  In addition, the House of Representatives just passed HB 2596 that will prohibit cities from prohibiting churches from locating in certain neighborhoods.

It should not be all about the money.  City officials would learn an important lesson in 1 Timnothy 6:20 – that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch

Don’t be Intimidated by the Playground Bully

March 30, 2010

Many of us have been there – playing on the school playground when suddenly you find yourself in the cross-hairs of the school bully.  There you are minding your own business when the bully comes up to you and perhaps demands your lunch money or just wants to pick on you to satisfy their own cruelty.  Maybe you stood there with sweaty palms and a racing heart and gave in.  Or maybe you chose to fight back.  But the passage of time gives us a perspective that perhaps many of us lacked in those playground situations.  As we get older and more experienced in life we realized that the bully was really nothing more than a weakling who made up for his own weakness by being loud and obnoxious.  Perhaps that reality dawned on you if you refused to be pushed around by the bully and stood up to him.

Whatever the case, playground bullies still exist today, and one of the organizations that gets a kick out of trying to bully churches is Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  ADF was recently the subject of an AU blog post full of bellicose bullying.  AU basically yells at anyone who listens to them, that ADF’s Pulpit Initiative is a failure and that we should just give up. 

Basically, AU’s blog post boils down to threats and intimidation by the “playground bully” of churches.  And bullying churches is something that AU is very good at.  Every election cycle, AU sends letters to churches trying to scare them into not addressing the issues of the day, and breathing threats that any church who crosses AU’s imaginary line in the sand will get reported to the IRS (put another way, “if you don’t do what I say, I’m going to tell…”).  AU also reports churches to the IRS that it believes have violated the IRS rules and regulations.  What AU doesn’t tell you, though, is that the IRS almost never acts on any complaints AU files.  And what they don’t tell you is that the only substance behind AU’s threats against churches is their own say-so, which doesn’t amount to anything and certainly is not in line with constitutional law.

AU says that the Pulpit Initiative is a failure yet they continue to yell and scream about it to anyone who will listen.  This is the classic behavior of a playground bully who knows deep down inside that his only method of control is to scare people and who actually understands a threat to their regime of fear and intimidation.

And AU is wrong.  The Pulpit Initiative has been a success.  The Pulpit Initiative is a growing nationwide movement of pastors who refuse to be silenced and who refuse to let government agents look over their shoulder and censor what they preach from the pulpit.  And whether AU likes it or not, the Pulpit Initiative has opened to door to a new day where only pastors and the church leadership determine what is preached from the pulpit – and the government has no say-so in what a pastor preaches.  AU says it is an organization dedicated to preserving the separation of church and state yet it argues to continue a system of massive government entanglement and control of churches.  The inconsistency of their arguments is laughable.

Pastors, never let yourself be intimidated by the “playground bullies” of this age.  Preach the Gospel as God lays it on your heart to preach.  As Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.”  Never let anyone scare you into silence on the vital moral issues of the day.  ADF will stand with you as we have stood with other pastors, and together we will see that the threats and intimidation by today’s bullies are nothing more than empty words.  And when we stand together, we’ll send these bullies packing.

Show the bullies you cannot be intimidated – sign up today for the Pulpit Initiative.

Please leave a comment below to share your thoughts or follow us on Facebook to join the conversation. http://www.facebook.com/SpeakUpChurch (more…)

Court Turns Back Recent Attack on Ministry

March 27, 2010

The assault on faith and people of faith has never been greater here in America. Billboards sponsored by atheistic organizations have been springing up around the country spouting phrases like “Praise Darwin: Evolve Beyond Belief,” and “Imagine No Religion.” Churches taking a biblical stand on moral issues such as homosexual behavior are becoming victims of vandalism and disruption of worship services.
But those standing firm in the face of this anti-religious onslaught received welcome news from a federal court the first week in March. Several years ago the anti-religion group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, sued President Bush, the governor of Wisconsin, and Shirley Dobson in an effort to stop the National Day of Prayer.
Mrs. Dobson voluntarily chairs the National Day of Prayer Task Force – a private non-profit ministry that promotes prayer observances on the National Day of Prayer each year and asks the President to issue a proclamation. For her efforts, she was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit. The plaintiffs complained that a ministry requesting the President to ask the nation to pray violates the so-called “separation of church and state.” In essence, they wanted the court to muzzle people of faith and keep them from talking to their political leaders.
But in a March 2, 2010 ruling, a Federal District Court in Wisconsin threw out their claim against Mrs. Dobson – reaffirming the right of religious people and organizations to petition their government officials. Thankfully, this attempt to silence religious ministries was unsuccessful. Mrs. Dobson is to be commended for not rolling over when faced with legal action for merely speaking up.

Have you Signed Up for the Pulpit Initiative Yet?

March 25, 2010

The Florida Baptist Witness recently posted an article about ADF’s Pulpit Initiative.  ADF has been speaking to pastors and church leaders across the country about the Pulpit Initiative, and encouraging them to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday on September 26, 2010. 

The Pulpit Initiative is an opportunity for pastors to speak scriptural truth from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.  Something is wrong in America when we allow the government to step into the pulpit and censor a pastor’s sermon.  Whether you believe that a pastor should endorse or oppose a candidate from the pulpit is not the issue.  The issue the Pulpit Initiative was created to decide is who gets to make that decision for churches.  We believe that it is solely up to a pastor and the church leadership to decide whether to address candidates and elections from the pulpit and the government should not mandate that churches remain silent on this issue.  The Pulpit Initiative is intended to remove the government once and for all from the decison-making process of what gets said from the pulpit of a church.  It is time to remove the government from the pulpits of America.

Have you taken time to look at the information on our website about the Pulpit Initiative?  Have you prayerfully considered becoming part of this important fight?  If not, why not do so today?  become part of the movement to regain the sanctity and autonomy of America’s pulpits.  Join ADF in the Pulpit Initiative.

Montana Baptist Church Continuing to Impact the Law

March 24, 2010

Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church is a normal church in Helena, Montana, that made a very abnormal impact on the law involving a pastor’s right to speak Truth from the pulpit. 

Recently we represented Canyon Ferry Road Church in a case against the state of Montana.  Montana had required the church to actually become (and operate as) a political committee simply because the pastor encouraged his congregation from the pulpit to support the local marriage amendment and allowed volunteers to place petition sheets in the back of his church.  We sued Montana on behalf of the church, arguing that the laws violated the First Amendment.

After several years of intense litigation, the Ninth Circuit ruled, unanimously, in favor of the church.  The result was that churches up and down the Western seaboard could not be subject to election laws like Montana’s.  The case has also been used outside the Ninth Circuit to persuade courts that churches and people of faith are entitled to broad constitutional protections to speak on the pressing social and moral issues of the day. 

And the case continues to pay dividends.  Harvard Law Review recently highlighted the case in the most recent edition of its journal.  They note that a private party who opposed the marriage amendment instigated the state’s investigation of the church.  That group then sent threat letters to hundreds of conservative churches across the state, saying that they would file a complaint against any other church that supported the marriage amendment like Canyon Ferry did. 

It was pure political bullying, backed by the substantial resources of the state.  Harvard Law Review recognized what a constitutional hazard that poses for churches and other groups.  They called on legislatures to rid their statutes of laws that allow third parties to file complaints based on constitutionally protected speech. 

We also understand that another Law Review article is due this spring from Notre Dame that focuses on the case.  It’s a reminder of what a difference one church can make.  Because of a small Baptist church’s faithful commitment to fight for its rights, the law changed and all believers benefited.

Rep. Michele Bachmann: “Repeal the Johnson Amendment”

March 12, 2010

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a radical leftist organization bent on intimidating pastors and churches into silence is making noise about a recent radio appearance by Rep. Michele Bachmann.  Rep. Bachmann came right out and said what most pastors believe when she stated that Congress should repeal the Johnson Amendment.

Here is what she said, as reported by the Minnesota Independent, that has AU so worked up:

“The reason why clergy are afraid to be involved is because of an amendment that former President Lyndon Johnson passed when he was a senator from Texas… that stops 501(3)c [sic] organizations from saying anything political from the pulpit. Now, churches can be political from the pulpit. They can talk about issues all they want. What they can’t do is endorse a candidate from the pulpit. But the ACLU has been all over the backs of churches… Christian and Jews and people of faith are not second class citizens… but these radical leftist organizations have been intimidating Christians for so long and pastors don’t generally now that they do have the right to speak out from the pulpit. Congress should repeal that amendment from Lyndon Johnson… We need to repeal that and give Christians back their first amendment rights to free speech in the church.”

I say a hearty “Amen” to Rep. Bachmann’s comments!  The Johnson Amendment has been used for far too long as a tool of intimidation and coercion against churches and pastors.  That is why ADF launched the Pulpit Initiative – to allow pastors to speak freely from their pulpits without fear of intimidation and censorship from the government, or anyone else for that matter.

Click here to sign up for the Pulpit Initiative.  Stand with ADF and hundreds of other pastors across the nation to regain the right of pastors to speak freely.

Should Churches be Taxed?

March 10, 2010

The Catholic League reported on March 5th that the Kansas House of Representatives was considering a bill that would remove the sales tax exemption for churches.  It is unclear at this point whether the bill has any chance of success, but it raises an issue that has been assumed, but not debated much, in American history – should churches be taxed at all?

Jesus made it very clear that as citizens of whatever country we live in, we should pay our taxes.  But the question of whether churches should be taxed at all is a different question altogether.  And it is one that judicial case law has not discussed much.

It has been assumed from the foundation of our country that churches should remain tax exempt.  In 1890, Kentucky State Representative Whittaker summed up the sentiment nicely when he said, “Let an untaxed Gospel be preached, in an untaxed church house, from an untaxed pulpit; let the emblem of a crucified, but risen Christ be administered from an untaxed altar, and, as the spire points heavenward, . . . let it stand forever untaxed.”

In 1970, the United States Supreme Court noted the “undeviating acceptance given religious tax exemptions from our earliest days as a Nation.  Rarely if ever has this Court considered the constitutionality of a practice for which the historical support is so overwhelming.”  Walz v. Tax Comm’n of City of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 681 (1970) (Brennan, J. concurring).  The very next year, the Supreme Court noted that nontaxation of churches is undergirded by “more than 200 years of virtually universal practice imbedded in our colonial experience and continuing into the present.”  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 624 (1971).

Churches, as nonprofit organizations, are exempt from taxes not because of the public benefits that churches provide, although that is also a reason for exemption.  Rather, it is their very existence as non-profit entities that justifies church tax exemption.  Taxation naturally applies to profit-makers, the generators of revenue upon which government depends.  In his book, Why Churches Should Not Pay Taxes, Dean Kelley makes a powerful argument.  He states, “Other entities, which are not in the wealth producing category to begin with [such as churches], do not need to explain why they are not taxed any more than do the birds of the air or the rivers that flow to the sea. . . .  [Taxation] would be pointless, since they are not in any meaningful sense producers of wealth.”

In fact, taxing such nonprofits discourages their existence and amounts to double taxation.  All citizens, whether or not involved in a church or other nonprofit, are taxed on their individual incomes.  As Kelley notes again, “To tax them again for participation in voluntary organizations from which they derive no monetary gain would be ‘double taxation’ indeed, and would effectively serve to discourage them from devoting time, money, and energy to organizations which contribute to the up building of the fabric of democracy.”

There are many more reasons why churches should not pay taxes, but just these few demonstrate that the Kansas legislature should never let this bill see the light of day.

How Government Got Its Foot in the Door of our Churches

March 3, 2010

If asked whether their pastor is free to preach however he feels led to preach, many would say, “of course!”  And some might even view the question itself as ridiculous.

But perception is not always reality, and one subtle but potent threat to the freedom of the pulpit has been quietly infiltrating America’s churches since 1954. That was the year Lyndon Johnson – then a powerful senator from Texas facing a tough re-election battle – suddenly found his road to Capitol Hill effectively blocked when two influential private nonprofits distributed thousands of pieces of literature against his re-election bid.

To Johnson’s mind, the impact of that literature had to be neutralized, and he soon hit on an ingenious plan to silence his opponents. On July 2, 1954, he stepped out on the floor of the Senate to propose an amendment to a pending tax overhaul bill. His amendment (which included churches and Christian ministries within its reach) prohibited nonprofits from supporting or opposing candidates for office.  It passed unanimously, without objection or debate.

Pulpit

Johnson’s amendment did more than stop the opposition of these two non-profits in their tracks. It turned 200 years of American history on its ear. For the first time, the federal government was actually authorized to punish a pastor for preaching about candidates during an election season.

Now, whether you believe that your pastor should preach about candidates during election season or not, the point is that it’s not in the interest of religious freedom to allow the government to make that decision for us.  Nor is it the job of the state to decide how closely a church can follow the mandates of Scripture in governing itself and fulfilling the Great Commission.

If today the government can tell your pastor not to apply Scriptures to candidates and election issues, then tomorrow it will be able to restrict his Bible-based speech on other, non-election issues – like homosexual behavior – that the government decides it has an interest in protecting.  After that, it won’t be long before government will move to restrict the speech of your pastor on even the very basics of the faith.

That’s why ADF launched the Pulpit Initiative, where we are looking to kick the government out of the pulpits of America and protect a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing any government censorship or control.  If you are a pastor, let us know if you are interested in the Pulpit Initiative.  It’s time we stand together to reclaim the freedom of the pulpit in America.