A regulation added to the IRS code back in 1954 has muddied the waters for pastors, creating a scenario in which some leaders are too fearful of federal consequences to exercise their right to free speech from the pulpit.
The Speak Up campaign (launched by the Alliance Defense Fund) addresses this important issue, while working to “protect and promote” the rights of American churches. In addition to making faith leaders aware of their constitutional right to free speech, the movement encourages pastors to stop self-censoring and to start making their political voices heard.
But in addition to legal help, pastors can also join in on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event the coalition has launched to encourage pastors to preach sermons that to examine candidates’ stances. Aside from exploring candidate opinion, churches are encouraged to look at what Scripture says about each issue. Then, they will make specific recommendations about whether or not the congregation should vote for or against specific candidates.
Following the event, each pastor lets the IRS know about his or her sermon. The hope is that making the government aware of the code violation will spark an audit. Then, the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment can be hashed out once and for all.
In 2008, only 33 pastors participated; this expanded to 80 faith leaders in 2009 and then nearly 100 in 2010. With the movement rapidly growing, even more leaders are poised to take part in this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday on October 2, 2011.