February 04, 2019
Politics can do a lot to solve the world's problems -- but it can't do everything. When it comes to history's great moral dilemmas, hearts had to be changed before laws were. And that shift almost always started in the same place: the church.
The most powerful voices speaking into the crises of slavery, segregation, genocide, or abortion have usually come from the pulpit. So it's no surprise that when Christians' political influence increased, so did the Left's attacks. For almost 65 years, one of the most powerful weapons in their toolshed has been a piece of seemingly irrelevant tax policy called the Johnson amendment.
Instead of leaving pastors alone to preach on the issues of the day, the IRS (especially under administrations like Barack Obama's) tried to scare churches away from topics like life or marriage by threatening their tax exemption. Long before Donald Trump became president, he made it clear that one of his biggest priorities was doing away with the Johnson amendment. Too many church leaders are shrinking back from their call to provide moral clarity because they're afraid of the government's punishment. That has to stop.
"We're going to get rid of the Johnson Amendment," Trump said as a candidate, "because they're stopping you [the pastors] and our great people from talking. And... these are the people we have to hear from -- and we want to hear from. They're stopping you from speaking, and yet your opposing views can speak, because they don't have to worry about tax exempt things. So I think it's very unfair. One of the things I will do very early in my administration is get rid of the Johnson Amendment so that our great pastors and ministers and rabbis and everybody can... participate in the political process."
For four years, Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) have tried to put an end to the Left's culture of intimidation. "Every American should be able to speak freely about their conscience and convictions -- no matter what their job is... Critics who say this blurs the line between church and state misunderstand the principle. Thomas Jefferson's ‘separation' coinage doesn't mean that there is a wall of separation between the two; it just means that the state should not have control over the church, nor shall the church maintain control over the state."
This week, the same congressional trio (and new House cosponsor Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.) is back at it, reintroducing the Free Speech Fairness Act in hopes that the IRS will stop breathing down the necks of America's churches. Especially now, after the horror of New York's late-term abortion law, we need more pastors speaking out than ever. Where would America be without the church leaders from the Revolution or the wisdom from Martin Luther King, Jr.? We can wait for Washington to transform the culture -- or we can free up the spiritual conscience of America to make the lasting change our country needs.
If you, like me, pick the latter, contact your senators and congressman and ask them to finish the job Republicans started -- and pass the Free Speech Fairness Act.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.