- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Donald Trump has a new executive order in the works, one to open the doors for churches to endorse political candidates without losing tax exempt status.

Freedom From Religion Foundation — exit, stage left. Don’t let the door hit you. And here, take a Bible for the long walk home.

The FFRF has been trying to use the Johnson Amendment to its advantage for far too long, siccing the IRS on churches that dared go political in the pulpit. The Johnson Amendment, named after its sponsor, former president Lyndon B. Johnson, amended IRS code to make clear that nonprofits couldn’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for political office,” the text states.

In layman’s, that basically means churches are prohibited from endorsing political candidates. But they’re not prohibited from speaking about political issues, and even speaking in favor of certain sides of political issues — about biblical truths of gay marriage, for example.

The FFRF has been actively using the Johnson Amendment to chill church speech, however.

Since 2006, the organization’s filed more than 50 complaints about churches to the IRS — 28 in 2012 alone. And some of the targets of these complaints haven’t even come close to violating the amendment.

It’s just that the FFRF has been such a pitbull.

For instance, in 2012, FFRF accused Robert Morlino, a bishop in Madison, Wisconsin, of violating the tax code by speaking of the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage in a letter he wrote to the Catholic Herald. Among the FFRF’s complaints to the IRS? That Morlino wrote that “no Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates.”

Umm — duh, right?

But Morlino’s letter came just days before an election. And the FFRF said that it “inappropriately” intervened in a campaign — and in so doing, violated IRS electioneering laws. As such, the FFRF demanded the IRS “commence an immediate investigation” of Morlino and his diocese, and inflict punitive action.

Yes, this happened in America, the country founded on a basic premise of freedom of religion.

Did you know the church leaders of this nation used to be passionate about politics — used to mix sermons with political goings-on frequently, and aggressively?

Preachers during the American Revolution used to deliver fiery pleas from the pulpit about the need to fight for freedom, to battle the British for independence and the cause of righteousness. Those preachers weren’t afraid to get in the political fray; they regularly reminded their congregations about the greatest asset of being an American — that rights come from God, not government.

And they weren’t afraid to thunder at those in the pews to take that principle to the battlefield — even casting off clerical gowns and picking up firearms themselves.

Now?

Churches are cowed. Atheists get to dictate what’s said from the pulpit. And the Johnson Amendment needs to go — or at least receive massive watering and weakening.

Trump’s order directs the IRS to exercise “maximum enforcement discretion” with the Johnson Amendment. It’s about time. It’s a step in the right direction. But it’s a baby step. Let’s hope further weakening to this egregious clamp on religious freedom — on religious speech and free speech — is forthcoming from this administration. Our country’s ability to recapture its founding greatness — the unwavering idea of individual rights coming from God, the ability of churches to apply moral truths to modern issues — depends on it.

Cheryl Chumley’s book, “The Devil in DC: Winning Back the Country From the Beast in Washington,” details at length the Johnson Amendment, America’s religious history and the ongoing battle between churches and atheists.

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