NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pastors of at least seven Southern Baptist congregations participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a Sept. 28 free speech initiative to test the 54-year-old Supreme Court ruling that forbids the endorsement of political candidates from the pulpit.
“Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said in a news release. “No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.”
The ADF pledged to watch for Internal Revenue Service investigations arising from the event and oppose efforts to remove the tax-exempt status of 33 congregations whose pastors endorsed candidates from the pulpit.
The day after the free-speech demonstrations, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed complaints against six churches where pastors participated in the event.
“These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences,” Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a news release. “Church leaders are supposed to tend to Americans’ spiritual needs, not behave like partisan political hacks. I urge the IRS to act swiftly in these cases.”
The president of the Interfaith Alliance, who also is pastor of a Baptist church in Louisiana, said engaging political issues from the pulpit compromises the credibility of religion.
“On the day after the election, whoever is in the White House will need a unified nation in order to accomplish his goals and to have the nation fulfill its responsible role internationally,” C. Welton Gaddy, president of the alliance, told FOXNews.com. “Religion historically has been able to bring people together in that kind of unity. If religions in the United States are as divided as politics itself, they will not be able to make one of their greatest contributions to the nation.”
“ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit,” Stanley told FOXNews.com. “Churches can decide for themselves that they either do or don’t want their pastors to speak about electoral candidates. The point of the Pulpit Initiative is very simple: The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church tax-exempt status. We need to get the government out of the pulpit.”
A statement posted on the ADF website says in part:
“Historically, churches have emphatically, and with great passion, spoken Scriptural truth from the pulpit about government and culture…. Pastors have proclaimed Scriptural truth throughout history on great moral issues such as slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor and prostitution. Pastors have also spoken from the pulpit with great frequency for and against various candidates for government office. All that changed in 1954 with the passage of the ‘Johnson amendment,’ which restricted the right of churches and pastors to speak scriptural truth about candidates for office…. [C]hurches faced a choice of either continuing their tradition of speaking out or silencing themselves in order to retain their church’s tax exemption…. It is time for the intimidation and threats to end. Churches and pastors have a constitutional right to speak freely and truthfully from the pulpit — even on candidates and voting — without fearing loss of their tax exemption.”
Of the 33 congregations listed by the ADF as participating in the event, seven are listed in the database of Southern Baptist congregations available at www.sbc.net. The list of pastors who registered with the Alliance Defense Fund as participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday can be found at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/PFSparticipants.pdf.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.