Bill Would Restore Pastor's Right to Free Speech

The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act or H. R. 235 would restore a pastor's right to freedom of speech and remove threats on churches' tax-exemptions.
( [email protected] ) Sep 21, 2004 07:36 PM EDT

The author of the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act is hoping the bill, which would restore a pastor and church’s right to free speech and free exercise including political topics, will garner enough support to make the House’s vote before Congress adjourns in October.

“We're as close as we've ever been to getting this thing done,” CitizenLink reported the bill’s author U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., who introduced H. R. 235 last year in January, as saying.

"We're just trying to get people around this nation to really get energized and behind this, he said.

As non-profit organizations, churches must abide by the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, prohibiting corporations of that nature to participate in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” The first law to ever restrict the church’s role in politics was initially inserted into the tax code by Senator Lyndon Johnson in 1954, not intentionally targeting churches or houses of worship but to thwart opposing voices to his reelection. However, the code has made a pastor’s freedom of speech ambiguous and discouraging repercussions--a church’s tax-exempt status being revoked.

While some non-profit organizations have been able to sidestep the violations by using an external source of funding to back activities which may have political influence, such as Focus on the Family’s political arm, Focus on the Family Action, many churches face a dilemma at the pulpit, forced to choose between moral obligation and the threat of IRS regulations.

Words such as "pro choice," "pro life," "liberal," and "conservative," uttered from a pulpit even in an educationally motivated speech can warrant an investigation by the IRS, according to a Web site supporting H.R. 235.

The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act seeks to “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to protect the religious free exercise and free speech rights of churches and other houses of worship,” and restore a pastor’s right to free speech and exercise as guaranteed under the Constitution 50 years ago.

"From the beginning of America until 1954," Jones told CitizenLink, "there was never any restriction on the First Amendment right of our spiritual leaders. Absolutely none. Zero."