What Pulpit Freedom?


The Gray Lady weighs in on Pulpit Freedom Sunday and, surprise of surprises, takes the dimmest of views. But while the editorial makes a couple of important points, it includes this odd statement: “The tax code mandate they are challenging has protected the separation of church and state by denying tax deductions for contributions to charitable organizations that engage in secular campaigning.” But the mandate is not really about separation of church and state, and it does not prevent religious institutions from engaging in “secular” campaigning–if that means, say, advocating passage of this or that piece of legislation. Rather, it says that any tax-exempt (501 c 3) organization, secular or religious, cannot engage in partisan political activity–activity on behalf of a particular party or candidate for office. The principle at stake is what might be called the separation of non-profits and political partisanship.
As for the Alliance Defense Fund, it backs its position with the following bogus argument:

The bottom line is that no enforcement agency of the federal government should be telling a pastor what he can or cannot say from his pulpit about the Bible and his church’s teaching on the issues of the hour–even if the pastor’s sermon applies Screipture and church teaching to candidates and elections. Such agencies certainly cannot condition tax-exempt status–a status churches have always been constitutionally guaranteed since our founding–on the surrencder of cherished First Amendment rights.
ADF has the U.S. Constitution and the weight of American history on its side. Those who oppose the Pulpit Initiative have yet to make one constitutionally-derived argument against it. It is ironic that they laud the “separation of church and state” in opposition to the Pulpit Initiative, but by opposing the initiative, are asking for continued government control and censorshipo of a pastor’s sermon. The pulpit is no place for government regulators.

In fact, churches have no constitutionally guaranteed tax-exempt status. Although it has been traditional in the West not to tax churches since the Emperor Constantine, the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment has never been interpreted to include a right not to be taxed. The remedy for the grievance here is simply for ADF to try to get the law changed.