- - Monday, August 28, 2017


It’s a rare day when the taxman is taken to task for going easy on taxpayers. But self-described “nontheists,” who are behind an unusual campaign to badger believers, march to the beat of the doubter’s drum. Not content to simply give churches they despise a wide berth, they’ve gone to court to force the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to serve as grand inquisitors, to examine a pastor’s sermons for any hint of commentary that could be construed as political. This clearly violates the very principle they claim to honor, the separation of church and state.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues that “most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion,” and is suing President Trump and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen for failing to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which since 1954 has directed churches to vet sermons for political content or risk losing their tax-exempt status.

Last week, lawyers for the Rev. Charles Moodie of Chicago, and Rev. Koua Vang and Rev. Patrick Malone and his Holy Cross Anglican Church of Wisconsin, filed a memorandum with the U.S. District Court for Western Wisconsin in support of the Trump administration’s asking that the atheists’ suit be dismissed.

The attempt to censor sermons is bad for the church and it’s bad for the state,” wrote Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the pastors. “This is one place where a little more separation of church and state would go a long way.”

In May, Mr. Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty that directed the Treasury Department to refrain from taking “any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization on the basis that such individual or organization speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.” No individual or church has been prosecuted for violating the Johnson Amendment, making the president’s act largely symbolic and the atheist foundation’s objections a solution in search of a problem.

In its effort to “defend the constitutional separation between religion and government,” the foundation would install IRS agents in the pews on Sunday to listen with pen and paper (or tape recorder) at the ready for any inference or parenthetical aside from the pulpit that might be construed as lending any consolation to a parishioner’s soul.

By attempting to censor pastors, the “nontheists” — atheists by another name — are trying to banish any evidence of faith from the public square. The Soviets tried this during their 70-year reign. When Soviet Russia collapsed, religious expression came roaring back. A Pew Research Center survey in May found the proportion of residents in former Soviet bloc nations who identify as Orthodox Christians ranges from 92 percent in Moldova to 71 percent in Russia. Those who consider themselves Roman Catholic range from 87 percent in Poland to 56 percent in Hungary. There are other Christians, Protestant dissenters, who add to these percentages.

If religion survived the godless Soviet era, it won’t be dislodged by the doubters, heretics and other unbelievers who seek to use the law to promote their own faith in nothing. Religious faith cannot be imposed by law or decree, and neither can it be stripped from the human heart by decree. Faith is a gift from God, and thus is not at the mercy of man. Donald Trump, for all his faults and shortcomings, understands this when atheists, entitled as they are to their unbelief, do not.

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