WASHINGTON – The American Center for Law and Justice announced Monday the launching of a nationwide campaign to oppose legislations that would restrict free speech in churches and non-profit organizations by labeling them as grassroots lobbying firms subjected to governmental regulation.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, opposes the legislations, arguing that they would place severe restrictions on the free speech of pastors and others who speak about current moral and political issues.
“This is one of the most significant violations of free exercise of religion and the freedom of political speech in our nation’s history,” wrote Sekulow in a column on the group’s website.
Congress is considering two grassroots lobbying bills, H.R. 4682 and S.1.
Grassroots lobbying is when an individual or organizations tries to stimulate people to contact public officials for a cause. Grassroots lobbying firms are required to register with Congress and report on their activities that would be made available to the public, or face financial and criminal penalties
“This legislation violates the First Amendment protections afforded to these organizations,” Sekulow stated. “This is bad legislation that could become bad law.”
Groups such as Focus on the Family and Family Research Council that seek to inform voters on moral issues would be affected by the legislations if passed.
Both FOTF and FRC say the bill seeks to “silence” pastors and Christian leaders who encourage their members to call their congressmen about issues such as marriage and life.
ACLJ is responding by launching a nationwide petition campaign through email, radio, television, and its website to urge House and Senate leadership to reject the legislations.
Instead, it supports Amendment 20 to S.1 which would eliminate the provisions of the Senate bill dealing with “grassroots lobbying firms” and ensure that churches and other public interest organizations and individuals would not be subject to lobbying regulations, according to ACLJ.
A similar incident regarding freedom of speech and the church occurred last year in California. A left-leaning Episcopal church was threatened by the Internal Revenue Service of losing its tax-exempt status when a retired guest pastor delivered a sermon about the then upcoming election between Senator Kerry and President Bush. Conservative and liberal Christians had also spoken out condemning the government’s action.