Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, told the Christian Science Monitor, "The religious community has to decide whether they want to be tax-exempt or involved in politics." What an outrageous statement from the chairman of one of the major parties. One would hope that this was an isolated statement that is not supported by anyone; however, he is not the only one who feels this way.
There seems to be a growing trend among some secular activists and, unfortunately, some liberal clergy to shut the Christians up! Too many churches are bullied by organizations that oppose Christian involvement in political affairs. For example, Americans for Separation of Church and State sent out 285,000 letters to churches telling them that they cannot endorse or oppose any candidate or intervene directly or indirectly in partisan campaigns. In Ohio, fifty-six clergy members have filed complaints with the IRS against two large churches. The fifty-six clergy claim that the two large churches violated their tax-exempt status by being too active in Bush's win in Ohio and by pushing J. Kenneth Blackwell's candidacy for governor. It is unfortunate that people in America are actively involved in squashing their fellow citizens' First Amendment rights.
The issue that is always brought up is because churches are tax-exempt organizations they forfeit their right to speak on political issues. It has not always been this way. It wasn't until 1954 that the government placed a muzzle over the mouth of the church. The then Senator Lyndon Johnson wanted to silence a couple of non-profit groups that opposed his reelection, so he slipped a little noticed amendment through on a revenue bill that silenced the moral and political conscience of this country. This was a blatant abuse of power, and every senator who voted without debating that amendment is responsible for this vicious attack on liberty!
Make no mistake; this is a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. This is exactly what Congress did when they passed the Johnson Amendment. It makes no difference who you are or what group you belong to, the First Amendment says that you can speak out politically without fear of government retribution. When the government says that you will be penalized for political speech, that is a violation of your First Amendment right.
American history is rich in the tradition of churches being involved politically. In 1776 Rev. George Duffield, pastor of Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, delivered a sermon in which he compared King George III to Pharaoh. He believed that King George III had enslaved the Americans just as Pharaoh had enslaved the Israelites and that God wanted America to be free. In that same year, in the state of Virginia, Pastor Peter Muhlenberg preached to his congregation the necessity of getting involved in the war to drive out the British. He called on the men of his church to join him as he joined the fight for liberty. Three hundred men joined him that day and formed the Eighth Virginia Regiment. Many years later Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the way in the civil rights movement. He spoke to many church congregations across the country and mobilized the fight for equality of all people from all races.
It is not only right for churches to be involved politically, but also necessary. Freedom has been fought for and won by men of God, yet people who claim to have America's best interest at heart continue to fight to keep churches silent. May we soon see the day when the muzzle is removed from the mouth of the church and freedom can once again be preached from the pulpits across America.
Kyle Mc Clure