Opinion

Why the Founding Fathers wanted to keep ministers from public office

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at an American Renewal Project event at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., on August 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Eric Thaye *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-FEA-OPED, originally transmitted on August 15, 2016.

(RNS) There’s an old Baptist saying that goes something like this: “If you mix horse manure and ice cream it doesn’t do much to the manure, but it sure does ruin the ice cream.”

I thought about this saying when I heard that Donald Trump was speaking in Orlando, Fla., to 700 evangelical pastors associated with the American Renewal Project.

The American Renewal Project is founded and directed by David Lane, a conservative Christian political activist and former Jerry Falwell Sr. operative who is trying to get 1,000 pastors to run for political office between 2016-2018.

Lane believes that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, but in recent decades it has lost its way. This is why pastors need to hold political office. They should be on the front lines of Lane’s grand project to restore Christian America.

Lane’s vision for renewal is rooted in a deeply flawed version of American history. Despite the fact that nearly every American historian in the country, including evangelical historians like myself, rejects the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, Lane continues to peddle this view. He manipulates the past for the purpose of his political agenda.

When Trump says “Make America Great Again,” it is hard to imagine Lane interpreting that phrase in any way other than as a call to reclaim a golden age that never existed.

Trump’s speech to Lane’s pastors assembled in Orlando did not focus specifically on clergy running for office. Instead he went after the so-called “Johnson Amendment,” a 1954 addition to the tax code stating, “organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” The amendment also notes, “Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

Evangelicals like Lane see the Johnson Amendment as a hindrance to free speech and religious freedom. Trump joked that the repeal of the amendment may be his ticket to heaven, but his opposition to the amendment is probably motivated by more earthly goals. He wants evangelical pastors to endorse his candidacy without fear of punishment from the IRS.

There has been a lot of debate over how the Johnson Amendment has, or will, affect the speech rights of evangelical pastors who want to use their pulpits to endorse candidates. The amendment has rarely been enforced. Pastors have been using their authority to support political candidates for a long time. Moreover, the Johnson Amendment does not apply to individual pastors. It only applies to churches.

Since Lane likes to appeal to history in his efforts to get pastors more involved in the political process, it is worth noting that the American Founding Fathers had a few things to say about the topic.

The founders who crafted the original state governments — those governments celebrated by today’s conservative politicians as the most important source of democratic life — thought it was a good idea for ministers to stay out of politics.

The state constitutions of North Carolina (1776), New York (1777), Georgia (1777), South Carolina (1778), Delaware (1792),Tennessee (1796), Maryland (1799), and Kentucky (1799) all banned clergymen from running for office.

The 1776 North Carolina Constitution states “that no clergyman, or preacher of the gospel of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of the pastoral function.”

The 1777 New York Constitution uses similar language: “And whereas the ministers of the gospels are, by their profession, dedicated to the service of God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their function; therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatsoever, shall, at any time hereafter, under any pretense of description whatever, be eligible to, or capable of holding, any civil or military office or place within this State.”

The Founding Fathers understood something about the role of clergy in American society that Lane and his Christian nationalist friends do not. Those who care for the soul have a “great” spiritual duty that should never be compromised or tarnished by politics. This is why they thought that the “separation of church and state” was important.

For all those concerned about the witness of the Christian church in the world, let’s remember that the founders thought it was a bad idea to mix horse manure and ice cream.

(John Fea teaches history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Penn., and is the author of the award-winning “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction,” which will appear in a revised edition next month.)

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  • The Founding Fathers understood something about the role of clergy in American society that Lane and his Christian nationalist friends do not. Those who care for the soul have a “great” spiritual duty that should never be compromised or tarnished by politics.

    Since that’s a religious opinion, the Founding Fathers or the government have no standing to make that judgment. Separation of church and state swings both ways: Religious judgments are outside the government’s power and purview.

    As for the Johnson Amendment being rarely enforced, the threat of the law no doubt has had a chilling effect. If the claim is that the Johnson Amendment is meaningless, then let’s test that claim by repealing it.

  • Or just repeal it. Using the IRS as a political weapon should appall any American.

    Mr. Johnson changed that section of the tax code with a little help from a Massachusetts congressman, John W. McCormack, who was later speaker of the House. The revised statute barred charitable groups from endorsing or opposing a candidate. For 178 years of American independence, rabbis, priests and preachers could stand in their pulpits and say anything they liked about candidates, just like other Americans whose First Amendment rights remained intact. The tax code he stacked to preserve his Senate seat has remained stacked since.

    ww.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/may/20/repeal-the-johnson-amendment/

  • So the plan is to elect people with no regard for the first amendment and turn churches into PACs. Thus cheapening religious authority. The author has this one right on the nose.

  • The only elective office Abraham Lincoln served in prior to being elected President was one term in Congress, though he ran and lost for Congress and Senate several times. Put prior to that election (1844?) Lincoln’s opponent was an evangelical minister. In their debate, the minister asked all in the audience who wanted to go to heaven to stand. Lincoln remained seated. The minister asked, “Mr. Lincoln, don’t you want to go to heaven?” Lincoln replied, “If it is all the same to you, Sir, I would rather go to Congress.” He did.
    Considering how some of the most vile and unprincipled cynical political manipulators operating today are clerics, from the crooked Mike Huckabee and the huckster Ralph Reed, on down to would-be christofascists like James Dobson and North Carolina’s humorous gift to the national funny bone, Mark Creech, it is apparent the founders, as well as the voters who chose Mr. Lincoln over his opponent that time, were certainly right.

    BTW, the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1923 resulted in a constitution which severely limited political participation by clergy since. There was an element of anticlericalism, but it was mostly due to clergy support for the Diaz dictatorship which preceded the Revolution. I argued about this with a grad school professor who identified Mexican culture with veneration of the virgin de Guadalupe that that phenomenon was more a spiritual connection than a fierce church militant, and spirituality has been viewed as a female sphere in that culture whereas the male culture tends to the secular. He agreed I was right.

  • Rabbis. priests and preachers can still say anything they like about candidates as long as they do it as private individuals and not from the pulpit as supposed representatives of the will of God.

    Using the pulpit as a political weapon should appall any American.

    It’s really very simple. If you want to be tax exempt then you stay out of politics. If you want to engage in politics than you can’t be tax exempt. I’m perfectly willing to give churches the option of choosing which road they want to take.

  • Might as well repeal it, for it is blatantly unconstitutional and that is why it has never been taken to the SCOTUS despite abundant opportunity. Some limited ability to harass is better, evidently, than none at all.

  • There was a disconnect between the federal Constitution and state Constitutions. Some had state-sponsored religions until the 1830’s and a prohibition against atheists that are still on the books in a few states. In the early years the feds had little power.

  • You’ve got that right Spuddie. The decline in churches will accelerate with that kind of behavior. You wanna be a church? Be a church! You wanna be a PAC? Be a PAC! You want to fail completely? Try being both.

  • How is it unconstitutional? The courts don’t agree, and they have very good reasoning on their side.

    You don’t have a constitutional right to have the government subsidize your religion.

  • The issue isn’t Freedom of Speech but the privilege of a tax exemption.

    If an organization wants the privilege of tax exemption it shouldn’t be allowed to use those tax exempt dollars for partisan political purposes.

    Allowing religious organizations unrestricted tax exemption violates the concept of Freedom of Religion because it extends a privilege to religion over non-religion which has repeatedly been ruled unconstitutional.

    Like I said, I have no problem with religious organizations taking part in politics but I don’t believe that participation should be subsidized with tax exemptions.

    There’s nothing in the Constitution about exempting religious organizations from taxes.

  • Of course the issue is freedom of speech. And the way around your objection is to repeal the Johnson Amendment and free up religious and non-religious organizations alike.

    Freedom should always be the first option, esp when explicitly protected in the Constitution.

  • Most non-religious organizations aren’t tax exempt. If they are tax exempt then they operate under the same restriction. Let’s remember that the Johnson Amendment applies to all 501(c) organizations.

    The power of congress to tax is also explicitly protected in the Constitution.

    The 16th Amendment gives congress the power to tax incomes “from whatever source derived.” Congress issues exemptions to that tax in order to encourage behavior that it considers beneficial. A tax exemption for whatever reason is a privilege.

    No particular organization has Constitutional relief from having its income taxed. The 16th Amendment includes no exceptions.

    To demand the additional privilege of using money obtained from the privilege of a tax exemption to support or endorse partisan political candidates is one privilege too many.

    I’m going to end this conversation saying that IF I believed this was a Freedom of Speech issue then I would agree with you. However, as you can see, I don’t believe that it is.

    Nice exchange though. Alencon signing off.

  • “‘It is rudimentary that the State cannot exact as the price of special advantages the forfeiture of First Amendment rights.’” Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310.

    “Respondents’ contrary position—that Arizonans benefiting from the tax credit in effect are paying their state income tax to student tuition organizations—assumes that all income is government property, even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence.” Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v . Winn et al.

  • “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead us to this conclusion…
    By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests.” –Citizens United vs. FEC

  • David Lane should (but won’t) meditate over Eccl 7:10 (NIV) “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” As well as 1 John 2:15-17

    15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[d] is not in them.

    16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

    17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

    Sadly these individuals serve the god of this world as opposed to the God who made it. Living in the world, when you’re (as His child) not to live of it.

  • And yet the first speaker of the House of Representatives under the 1789 Constitution was Frederick Muhlenberg, a pastor from Pennsylvania.

  • John Fea: ” [L]et’s remember that the founders thought it was a bad idea to mix horse manure and ice cream.”

    What the 17th-century Christian Colonial founders gave us was ice cream. What the 18th-century Enlightenment and Masonic founders gave us was horse manure. It is indeed a bad idea to mix the two. This is why the Constitutional Republic was doomed from its inception:

    “And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26-27)

    “[E]very kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

    The house known as the Constitutional Republic was not built upon the rock of Yahweh’s word, but instead upon Enlightenment and Masonic concepts. It began and continues as a divided house.

    Instead, we need to resurrect the ice cream from the 17th-century Colonial America, whose governments of, by, and for God were established upon His immutable moral law and were therefore the reason behind America becoming great and prosperous–that is, blessed of God per Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

    There’s only one standard by which everything (including the Constitution) is to be ethically evaluated: By Yahweh’s unchanging morality as reflected in His Ten Commandments and their respective statues and judgments. When the Constitution is actually examined by this standard (instead of a bunch of dead politicians’ cherry-picked quotations), it’s found to be anything but biblically compatible. In fact, there’s hardly an Article or Amendment that’s not antithetical, if not seditious, to Yahweh’s sovereignty and morality.

    For evidence, see free online book “Bible Law vs. Constitution: The Christian Perspective,” in which every Article and Amendment is examined by the Bible, at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/BlvcOnline/blvc-index.html.

    Then, find out how much you REALLY know about the Constitution as compared to the Bible. Take our 10-question Constitution Survey at http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/ConstitutionSurvey.html
    and receive a complimentary copy of a book that EXAMINES the Constitution by the Bible.

  • Tax free dollars to spend on promoting a particular religious view into the civil law that governs all of us.

    They can still say whatever they want. But they need to spend their own taxable dollars, same as everyone else.

  • Your point? Neither of these cases address what we’re talking about.

    If they did, you might have an argument. But no court, much less the Supreme Court, has decided that churches may exploit taxpayers in the form of tax exemptions whilst electioneering for a specific candidate.

    So, citing a non-church case, and a case that was limited to standing, is not particularly persuasive.

  • Not unconstitutional when all views are given the same freedom. That’s not “establishment of religion,” it’s the “free exercise of religion,” which is also in the First Amendment.

  • Congress can do whatever it wants on this issue. For almost 200 years it “erred” on the side of freedom. The Johnson Amendment is corrupt [see above]. No public good is served by it.

    Thank you for the civil discussion.

  • The SCOTUS hasn’t so ruled yet (mainly because the IRS has refused to take it all the way there, knowing the likely outcome), but they will. The principles are already in place. They’ve already held that tax exemptions/credits are not the equal of direct government subsidy. The reason why there was no standing in Winn is that such things do not constitute harm (i.e. exploitation) to the taxpayers and where there is no harm, there is no standing to bring a lawsuit.

  • Be that as it may be, the principles laid down therein will have to be dealt with. It’s rather a stretch to argue that preventing churches from influencing elections is worth violating our 1st Amendment freedom of speech when preventing the super-rich and Wall Street from doing so is not.

  • Proof that the IRS is used as a political weapon to harass opponents. Clinton DOJ vs. a church that opposed him.

    Does the Constitution require this? No.

  • It was a big part of the civil rights movement, as well. In fact, there probably wouldn’t have been such a movement without it.

  • Religious freedom means the kingdom of God must be implemented in the US through his anointed greta men. Any other form of government is religious persecution. Fay rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, and any form of government assistance to the poor and middle class are forms of idolatry. Jesus gave America his sword to spread his freedom (capitalism) thought the world through war and economic dominance. And interference with this God appointed mission for America is religious oppression.

  • Subsidizing a denomination is favoring it over others. You are favoring a church over secular organizations doing the same activities. There is no ecumenical way to subsidize churches getting directly involved in the political process. It harms PACs which don’t cheapen religious belief in such a crass fashion.

    Why do you want religious authority to be so demeaned and undermined by involving itself into politics?

    My guess is because you have no respect for things like religious freedom or the separation of church and state. Seeking political power for your sect/faith over others by any means necessary. I could be wrong. But it appears to be the basis of your argument.

  • The Constitution says “We the people .. as the US government’s claim to legitimacy. Ate that time all other governments claimed their legitimacy form God through king;’s and other anointed rulers. The Founders rejected this notion of legitimacy deriving from God.

  • Thanks for the explanation of standing. After practicing law for 30 years, I’d never encountered that concept. Gee, what was I thinking?

    Citizens United involved a 501(c)(4) organization. Churches fall under 501(c)(3). And if the IRS wins a case denying tax exempt status for a church, it’s the losing side that gets to appeal, not the IRS. Nice try.

    Thankfully, Scalia is no longer with us. So it is unlikely that another Citizens United is in the offing, for which we should all be grateful. I suppose Republican senators could continue to refuse to do their jobs, but this sort of thing tends to correct itself, and even our benighted voters have only so much patience. And it’s likely that come next January, a large number of Republican senators will be trolling for jobs at Fox News, and we can have some semblance of a government again.

    Of course, churches can just start paying taxes, but that would

    severely cramp their grifting ways. Nothing like scamming the punters and not having to pay taxes on the ill-gotten gains for motivation. Look how easy it was for John Oliver to join the fun, and he was only making a point.

  • So the best thing is to tax churches the same way as PACs when they get involved in the political process. This way churches do not gain an unfair advantage from government subsidy.

    This way it also doesn’t run afoul of the establishment clause at all. See! The Johnson Amendment makes sense after all.

  • I don’t see free speech as a question of “advantage” one way or the other. Freedom for all!

    As for the Johnson Amendment, it undid a tradition of 200 years of free speech; it was designed as a political weapon as is wielded like one. There was no good reason for it in the first place except partisan advantage, as it keeping it.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+politics+of+faith%3A+rethinking+the+prohibition+on+political…-a0166092749

    The legislative history behind the prohibition is sparse. (44) Then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson inserted the provision as a floor amendment in 1954, without the benefit of congressional hearings. (45) Most commentators have deemed Johnson’s concerns parochial: a charitable organization was helping to fund one of his opponents in a primary election. Absent a clear policy rationale from the rule’s inception, (46) scholars and policymakers have filled the gap with various explanations…

  • No, and federal law doesn’t either, if you had the slightest clue how this stuff works.

    The last president who tried that was Nixon, not Clinton, and it contributed to his inevitable impeachment, though he resigned rather than face that.

    You talk like many who have no understanding of how the government operates. And it’s always people like you who are most convinced they do understand.

  • Taxation on money raised is not an act of speech or chilling free speech. It is an obligation to the maintenance and upkeep of the system which made such things possible. If money is being raised for specifically political ends, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be taxed.

    The Johnson Amendment protects the sanctity of churches and religious authority by making it difficult to use them as a tool for coercion in the political sphere. Your cut and paste doesn’t do much to show why it is somehow improper. Your arguments clearly show the necessity of it.

    When a church is associated with a political party, it cheapens its religious message. It has always been acknowledged that religious belief and authority is something generally unquestioned, inherently coercive and never subject to rational discussion. Therefore, it is fundamentally improper for it to be treated on the same level as mere political discourse.

    If a church wants to act like a PAC, it should be treated like one.

  • When somebody starts hitting me over the head with their diploma, my eyes glaze over. Now you’re just getting personal with me and arguing from your own authority.

    Here, hit

    Mark Totten, Visiting Scholar, The George Washington University Law School. Fellow, Yale Center for Faith and Culture. JD (2006) Yale Law School. PhD, Ethics (2006) Yale University.

    with your credentials and erudition.


    The politics of faith: rethinking the prohibition on political campaign intervention.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+politics+of+faith%3A+rethinking+the+prohibition+on+political…-a0166092749

  • Taxation on money raised is not an act of speech or chilling free speech.

    When it’s punitive, when it’s directed against only certain types of speech, it’s not “taxation” anymore, it’s something else. A weapon.

  • Its not punitive if one is seeking to avoid an advantage over others who do the same activity and are taxed for doing it. If PACs are taxed, organizations who perform the same activities as PACs should be taxed as well.

    You said there is no violation of the establishment clause if the church is not given advantage over others by the government action. (Not when the same “subsidy” is available to all.) Taxing churches for acting like PACs makes the subsidy available to all. It puts them both on the same level playing field. Not chilling or a weapon. Just the cost of doing business in an arena where such taxes are a given.

  • Its not punitive if one is seeking to avoid an advantage over others who do the same activity and are taxed for doing it.

    There is no advantage over others if all have the same freedom.

    Neither is it axiomatic that churches be taxed at all. The Founders saw religion as a self-evident public good. If the legislature chooses not to tax it, that’s constitutional.

    Until Lyndon Johnson snuck in this self-serving amendment, this was never an issue, for almost 200 years. We have never taxed churches, and especially haven’t used something like the IRS as a political weapon against them. Nor should anyone be in favor of using the IRS in a political way.

    The easy distinction which the IRS trumpets, assuring church leaders they can still address the great moral challenges of the day without fear of government oversight, does not work in practice.

    Even if this line does exist, religious congregations are hard-pressed to discern where the IRS will draw it on a case-by-case basis. Although the past lack of enforcement means that some religious leaders routinely flaunt the prohibition, in other cases the result of this uncertainty is a chilling effect on otherwise legitimate speech. Addressing political issues, many religious leaders might conclude, is too great a risk. The vagueness of the standard, coupled with the severity of the penalty and the uncertainty of enforcement, makes a compelling case for revision.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+politics+of+faith%3A+rethinking+the+prohibition+on+political…-a0166092749

  • “There is no advantage over others if all have the same freedom.”

    Right, so if a PAC is taxed for its efforts in fundraising and electioneering a church should be too for the same thing. Too bad you don’t really believe what you typed. You are arguing for churches to have an advantage over PACs through government subsidy.

    “The Founders saw religion as a self-evident public good.”

    When religion was divorced from the reins of political power. As noted both legislatively and privately. None of them thought religious entanglement with the apparatus of government was beneficial to the liberties of its citizens. Hence the 1st Amendment.

    “Until Lyndon Johnson snuck in this self-serving amendment, this was never an issue, for almost 200 years.”

    Which is neither a criticism of its effect or validity. Tradition is not a reason for doing something in of itself. Unless you can provide reasons for keeping a tradition going, there is no necessity for doing so.

    If churches are going to use their tax free status to gain advantages over the public for doing activities which are frequently taxed, it is not an attack to be taxed.

    Btw the Johnson Amendment was a response to a secular non-profit organization funding an opponent. Not specifically against churches.

  • Neither is there a reason to overturn a tradition without a compelling need to do so. As we see, there was none–Johnson was using the IRS as a weapon against his political opponents–and as you point out yourself, that it has a chilling effect on churches is a byproduct, not the purpose of the law.

    Free speech for all is the spirit of the law. To use the letter of the law against its spirit is without principle.

  • No. Just, no.

    This is not new stuff. There are literally rooms full of constitutional decisions addressing this.

    That you choose to ignore that does not speak well of you.

  • An argument from tradition is no argument at all. There still must be “rational and secular purposes behind government actions to avoid running afoul of the Establishment Clause.

    The compelling reason to overturn tradition and tax churches which act like PACs is that they are not acting like religious institutions but political organizations. They are doing the same actions that PACs are taxed for and so gain an unfair advantage over them. As I have stated numerous times.

    The real problem you have is that you don’t sincerely believe your own statements.

    “There is no advantage over others if all have the same freedom.”

    “I don’t see free speech as a question of “advantage” one way or the other. Freedom for all!”

    If you sincerely meant any of that you would not be arguing about giving churches an unfair advantage over PACs for doing the same activities they do and are taxed for.

    But you don’t. You are full of it.

    You are looking to turn churches into tax free electioneering platforms. You are looking to cheapen the authority of religious institutions.

    If churches want to remain tax free, they should avoid activities which are generally taxable. Religious rites, worship, ceremony and administration are not acts which are taxable. Political fundraising, campaigning and electioneering are.

    Btw I also think that commercial activities by churches should be taxed as well. When a church acts like something other than a church, it loses whatever traditional protections expected of one.

  • There still must be “rational and secular purposes behind government actions to avoid running afoul of the Establishment Clause.

    No problem with the EC, since no religion is being established by Congress. The problem is in running afoul of the Free Exercise clause. To speak out–even on politics–is living one’s faith.

    The Free Exercise clause is often steamrollered in these things. To use the IRS against the free exercise of religion is the greater harm here.

    As for tax, Congress may tax this and not that, at its discretion. In this case, Lyndon Johnson abused that discretion for his own gain. There wasn’t even a debate in Congress; they snuck it in.

  • Go away. You have no argument. You can’t tell me that a church acting like a PAC doesn’t have an advantage over PACs because of their tax free status. You refuse to address this. So there is no point in going any further.

    To use the pulpit to endorse political candidates and raise money for them is an abuse of religious authority. It is not living one’s faith. It is selling it out and using religious authority in a self serving coercive manner. Raising money and campaigning for political candidates is not the exercise of religion. It’s the exercise of political speech. You want government subsidy of your political speech over others on an inappropriate manner. Religious privilege not religious rights.

  • Someday folk will remember there are two foundings of this land. 1620 Mayflower Compact and the 1774-1791 effort with the Constitution/BoR being abandoned/vacated in 1861. What we have now is Vatican.Illuminati controlled.

  • Yep, another freedom hating theocratic. Why do you hate America and everything it stands for so much?

  • “After practicing law for 30 years, I’d never encountered that concept. Gee, what was I thinking?” Save that for someone else. There are many easily-impressed posters around here.

    “Citizens United involved a 501(c)(4) organization. Churches fall under 501(c)(3).” So what? The underlying principles with regard to free speech are much the same. Far more so than stretching the 14th Amendment, which was ratified by the people to address race, being stretched to include all manner of gender issues which the people never debated or voted on. And free speech, unlike marriage, is actually spelled out in the Constitution. Imagine that.

    “Thankfully, Scalia is no longer with us. So it is unlikely that another Citizens United is in the offing” Well, thank you for that demonstration of the growing politicized contempt for stare decisis and constitutional principle, which I’ve been commenting about for quite a while.

    “Of course, churches can just start paying taxes” What other civil liberties are you willing to sell for a tax exemption — and more importantly, where did the constitution authorize the government to make ANY laws that curtail freedom of speech, through taxation or otherwise?

  • The main reason they wanted to keep ministers out of politics is because of “popery”. Of having the head of state also being the head of a religion, or in this case influenced by one religion to the exclusion of others. Of course, when popes were head of state in centuries past, there was only one Christian religion at the time, Catholicism. How I miss that unity.

  • As the Supreme Court has said, Congress doesn’t have to subsidize the exercise of your First Amendment rights.

    I have a First Amendment right to buy a magazine and read it. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to pay sales tax when I do so.

    And every right is subject to regulation. “Fighting words” are not protected speech, for example. Nor is incitement to riot. I have a right to have a parade for a cause. That doesn’t mean I can forgo getting a parade permit, though. Where did you get the idea that government can’t regulate the exercise of rights?

    You have a very strange idea of how constitutional rights work.

  • And as the Supreme Court has said, a tax credit/exemption is not in the same category with a direct government subsidy.

    Rights may be subject to regulation, provided there is a compelling need for it, but not to the point of deciding who may speak without consequence and who may not. Such “speaker identity restrictions” are “all too often simply a means to control content,” as the Court noted in Citizens United. “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers. Both history and logic lead us to this conclusion.”

  • Ignore the diploma claims. Lawyers don’t argue that way. Nor do they ask “why isn’t it constitutional?” They already know both sides before they ever step into the argument–if they’re properly trained.

  • I can’t hate something which doesn’t exist. But every attempt at enacting his “perfect law” has been an evil atrocious nightmare.

    “What do you like best about Baal worship? ”

    The costumes! The sense of showmanship in their rites. No falling asleep in that church.

    “Everything belonging to the state?”
    Like saying everything and everyone belongs to the living representatives of God’s word!

    “Making wedding cakes for fags?”

    Oh, no! Horror of horrors, your prejudice no longer has color of law! Get your fainting couch.

    So what is the difference between you and ISIS?
    Costumes and access to heavy weaponry.

    There is no chance I will be taking you and your merry band seriously.

  • You’ve stirred up a micro hornet’s nest consisting of Ted R. Weiland and his five minions. This band of merry bobble heads follow their cult leader who runs a campaign to get the Constitution abolished in favor of one man rule.

  • Of course I have an argument, which is why you just tried to wave it away.

    Raising money and campaigning for political candidates is not the exercise of religion. It’s the exercise of political speech.

    Both are protected by the First Amendment.

    And since I was here first, you have no standing to tell me to go away. Bye.

  • Roger that. “No it’s not” isn’t an argument, let alone a rebuttal. It is an abandonment of the marketplace of ideas.

    What Dr. Fea’s essay here brought out is that there’s a lot of bald anti-religious animus out there, and proof that the “evangelical mind” isn’t the only scandalous one. 😉

  • “Both are protected by the First Amendment.”

    And neither of them are immune from taxation if there is income generated. Tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. One which requires a narrow set of criteria if one wants to retain it.

    You have been talking out of both ends the entire time. You just don’t want to acknowledge that churches abuse their tax exempt status by acting like PACs.

    They take undue advantage over PACs who are taxed for their political revenue generating efforts. So the most fair response is to tax churches when they act like PACs. Hence, the Johnson Amendment. You have avoided addressing it.

    Its clear you have little to say here or understanding of the subject.

  • You want tax payer subsidy and freedom to influence the process of law in a civil and secular society. This has nothing to do with the freedom for YOU to practice your religious beliefs at all, but rather restricts you from the use of tax free dollars to use the force of civil law to make other people accept your purely theological concerns. Likewise, your freedom of speech is not compromised.you can still say whatever you want, you just have to pay the same price the rest of us have to pay– taxes. None of my dollars are tax free, so why should yours be?

  • Very clear.

    I speak freedom and you speak taxation. You understand all, I understand nothing.

    You say I have nothing to say.

    OK. Thanks for shouting me down. I’ll take my chances with the readers. Dr. Fea, this is the company you keep. Was this your intended effect?

  • Not a taxpayer “subsidy.” I favor freedom of speech as a First Thing. The tax laws should get out of the way of freedom of speech, and of the free exercise of religion, both are explicit in the First Amendment.

  • Wow, were we lucky to have them as founding fathers. They knew exactly what tears families, communities, states, and nations apart. Religious disagreements. All of them Expensive, tedious, and stupid. The government remains neutral in religious matters. It was an utterly brilliant idea. They didn’t come up with it themselves, but who cares? They put it in writing. Scientologist? Baptist? Hindu? Third Church of the Holy Whatnot (Reformed)? Who cares? We are all equal under the law. It was genius.

  • The term “Christian nation” is somewhat of a misnomer, but it would be more accurate to say that Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs formed and shaped the founding of our Republic, as well as the government and laws that were enacted once we won our independence. One of the men who signed the declaration of independence, John Adams, declared that:
    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
    George Washington, James Madison, Daniel Webster, and many other founding fathers echoed similar sentiments. The idea is that people need to be self-governed by God in order to be able to have political freedom Immoral people become enslaved first by their own vices, and then eventually by a government because in an immoral culture, nobody trusts anybody else!
    Many people today bemoan the loss of liberty in America, but a close look at the bothersome trends reveals that it is in fact for this reason (immorality) that our freedoms are threatened.
    But if most people do not believe in God enough to voluntarily follow at least his basic commands, then I do not see how pastors running for office — or even winning election — would really help the situation. If somebody lives in a state or district where the majority are “God-fearing”, then would that electorate not be inclined to vote for those who would uphold morality in our laws? And if the majority is not God-fearing, then on what basis would we expect a more Godly candidate to win?
    If we look at America’s history, we actually find that the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were framed both by religious and non-religious men. The difference is that even most “non-religious” people at the time saw the value in morality setting a framework for law, whereas currently even many who identify as religious do not really care much for moral boundaries. Hence a strong government needs to come in and enforce some!

  • “Neither is there a reason to overturn a tradition without a compelling need to do so.”

    Your tradition argument is worthless — Slavery in the US was a tradition, even evaluated in the constitution where a slave was considered to have 3/5ths the worth of a good white Christian.

    Use your head.

  • “Chilling effect,” see above. What we really don’t know is how much free speech it has silenced, but it’s most certainly a lot.

    As for when the investigation commenced, I’ll withdraw the Clinton part. as it does not further discussion of the issue.

  • Someone here thinks David Barton’s Wallbuilders attacks on the Separation of Church and State
    is something novel.

    “but it would be more accurate to say that Judeo-Christian principles and beliefs formed and shaped the founding of our Republic, as well as the government and laws that were enacted once we won our independence.”

    So what was so unique to Judaism and Christianity which is directly and unambiguously reflected in our Constitution and system of government? Be specific.

    People of a theocratic bent use statements like yours all the time, but never can elaborate what they really mean there. Because it is simply religious “tramp stamping” the secular system our founders created. Trying to take credit for one’s faith where it did not belong.

    “”Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    Typically quotemined and taken out of context. Typically by people seeking to attack religious liberties enshrined in our Constitution. Typically echo-chambered for effect.

    Better yet,
    It was the belief of all sects at one time that the establishment of Religion by law, was right & necessary; that the true religion ought to be established in exclusion of every other; and that the only question to be decided was which was the true religion….. The example of Holland proved that a toleration of sects, dissenting from the established sect, was safe & even useful. The example of the Colonies, now States, which rejected religious establishments altogether, proved that all Sects might be safely & advantageously put on a footing of equal & entire freedom. We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government
    -James Madison
    http://atheism.about.com/library/quotes/bl_q_JMadison.htm

    “Many people today bemoan the loss of liberty in America, but a close look at the bothersome trends reveals that it is in fact for this reason (immorality) that our freedoms are threatened.”

    Such as the attacks on the separation of church and state, the use of legislative power to enact sectarian agenda and the entire, “Christian nation” nonsense to deny the liberties of those who are not of a theocratic christian bent.

    The great thing about our system is it was never, nor ever shall be beholden to your version of what God commands or any other. A greater good must be sought. One to encompass all beliefs, or none at all. Laws must be rational and secular if they are to stand. Otherwise they are merely sectarian discrimination and must be struck down.

  • “Chilling effect” here would mean prior restraint via self-censorship. As my linked article pointed out, certain speech may indeed legal even under the Johnson Amendment but because of the vagueness of the law and the harsh penalties for running afoul of it, churches are likely stepping way back from wherever that line may be.

    Prior restraint is exactly what the First Amendment was intended to prevent.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+politics+of+faith%3A+rethinking+the+prohibition+on+political…-a0166092749

    The easy distinction which the IRS trumpets, assuring church leaders they can still address the great moral challenges of the day without fear of government oversight, does not work in practice.

    Even if this line does exist, religious congregations are hard-pressed to discern where the IRS will draw it on a case-by-case basis. Although the past lack of enforcement means that some religious leaders routinely flaunt the prohibition, in other cases the result of this uncertainty is a chilling effect on otherwise legitimate speech. Addressing political issues, many religious leaders might conclude, is too great a risk. The vagueness of the standard, coupled with the severity of the penalty and the uncertainty of enforcement, makes a compelling case for revision.

  • Yes. Whatever “fairness” is achieved by silencing the churches is negated by the potential–if not actual–partisan abuse. And I would not let a single lower court decision stand as the only possible interpretation of its constitutionality, although I admit Employment Division v. Smith has gutted the Free Exercise clause.

    As a matter of political philosophy, I rate freedom over “fairness,” especially in this case where the latter cannot reasonably be quantified, nor whatever harm either.

    Thx for the polite discussion. Looks like we’re going to slip below the “Load More Comments” bar, and so further comment is a question of diminishing returns. Peace.

  • To anyone actually interested in the “context” of John Adams’ Message to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massacusetts, here it is in its entirety:

    Gentlemen,
    While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays I have received from Major-General Hull and Brigadier, General Walker your unanimous address from Lexington, animated with a martial spirit, and expressed with a military dignity becoming your character and the memorable plains on which it was adopted. in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candor, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world; because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

    An address from the officers commanding two thousand eight hundred men, consisting of such substantial citizens as are able and willing at their own expense completely to arm and clothe themselves in handsome uniforms, does honor to that division of the militia which has done so much honor to its country. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken and so solemnly repeated on that venerable spot, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government.

    founders dot archives dot gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-3102

  • While I see it as urgent that the political power of the politicised, showbiz, cult-like “evangelicals” of the megachurches (and the wannabee megachurches) be curtailed, there are other pastors whose impact on politics and public life has been positive.
    The most obvious example in the US would be the many African-American pastors who were leading figures in the Civil Rights movement and (in some cases) in elective office.
    In the commendable rush to prevent a Franklin Graham or a Jerry Falwell Jr. from becoming too powerful, let’s not prevent a future Martin Luther King or Andrew Young from happening.

  • “Those who care for the soul have a “great” spiritual duty that should never be compromised or tarnished by politics.”

    Let’s see the quotes to support that statement.

  • Take them VERY SERIOUSLY. Religious Fear directed at Anger and ‘Self Defense’ is an ENORMOUSLY destructive force. If GOD is on my side; you must be on the Devil’s Side! No Mercy! Kill the kids! We ALREADY have Christian Terrorism, dead abortion doctors, a long list of lone wolf attacks with Automatic weapons. It’s not a joke. Look at Kingdom guy; actively wanting to tear down the Constitution for a Theocracy. Think he’s Alone?? There’s Millions more who believe it IS a theocracy; the “Religious Freedom” Meant the Freedom for their Religion to take away YOUR FREEDOM. Fascism is Absolutely Preferred. Already: The entire Right believes To allow Abortion is a Violation of THEIR Religion.

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