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Render No More to Caesar That Which is Gods
February 14, 2003
By Timothy T.C. McGhee
America 21 is an organization dedicated to reengaging Christians and particularly pastors in the political process. Upon mentioning such an idea many pastors immediately think about, and perhaps hide behind, the dangers such activities pose to their tax status. To clarify any trepidation over such activities, America 21 has highlighted the relevant parts of an IRS publication (230 KB PDF) on what exactly churches, pastors and individuals can and cannot do.
However, it may surprise many to learn that such restrictions are not a result of Supreme Court misinterpretations of the First Amendment. Nor have such restrictions always been a part of the Internal Revenue Service since it was established during the Civil War. No, the Church in America has been silenced on a more subtle note in U.S. history.
In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection, and two anticommunist non-profit organizations were opposing him. In retaliation, he amended pending tax legislation to prevent all non-profit groups from speaking out against political candidates. Not a single hearing took place nor was any congressional record developed in order to explain the reasons for the ban.
There is no indication that Senator Johnson intended to target houses of worship. Nonetheless, his amendment has had far broader consequences for political speech in this country. The Church played an instrumental role in the elimination of slavery and the establishment of civil rights in this nation. Today, the Church has been silenced on abortion and many other issues of consequence, each of which stem from questions of theology.
One congressman has made it his top priority to correct this problem in U.S. law. Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina has introduced the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R. 235). This bill repeals the Johnson amendment and restores religious liberty protection to churches in America.
Rep. Jones is currently gathering cosponsors for this very important piece of legislation. A cosponsor is simply another member of Congress willing to sign on to the bill in agreement with the legislation. What would be particularly helpful are letters from senior pastors on church letterhead to representatives requesting their cosponsorship, or thanking the few who have already signed on to this bill.
Please write and call your representative and urge them to cosponsor this legislation. Please arrange a meeting with your pastor and explain the importance of his doing the sameon church letterhead. If he does, please have him cc Congressman Jones office as well. Each of these things you can do go a long way, both in Washington, and for eternity.