If a priest or minister is preaching the Word of God, would you agree
that he should be free in this country to say what needs to be said in order to
apply that Word of God to the circumstances of our times? That s exactly what
Martin Luther King, Jr. thought, and he said this the night before he was
assassinated: "It s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day,
God s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new
Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee."
The Second Vatican Council also defended the freedom of the preacher
in these words in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World:
"…At all times and in all places, the Church should have the true freedom to
teach the faith, to proclaim its teaching about society, to carry out its task
among men without hindrance, and to pass moral judgment even in matters relating
to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls
requires it" (GS 76).
But in 1954, this freedom was threatened when Lyndon Johnson
introduced an amendment into the tax code to protect himself from anti-communist
groups that were threatening his re-election. Johnson was not targeting
Churches, but his action affected them, because the amendment said that
tax-exempt groups could not intervene in political campaigns. This amendment to
the tax code was inserted without hearings or debate; it was done literally
within a few minutes.
Now, many bishops, priests, and ministers are confused and intimidated
about "preaching about politics," to the point that some Church attorneys even
gave legal advice in the last election cycle saying that Churches should not
quote the President talking about the "Culture of Life," because, after all, he
was running for re-election.
Now, a piece of legislation has be re-introduced in Congress to
restore some sanity to the situation. The Houses of Worship Free Speech
Restoration Act (HR 235) will protect the contents of the sermons and religious
teachings delivered in our nation s Churches by insuring that such content does
not become the basis for challenging a Church s tax-exempt status.
Freedom of speech is a bedrock of our Republic. It takes on an even
greater dimension when considered in the context of Churches. Those who preach
and teach the Word of God are carrying out a mission not given to them by an
earthly authority, but rather entrusted to them by the King of Kings and Lord of
Lords. The content of a sermon or religious teaching, therefore, has to be
protected in order to insure that religion can be freely and properly exercised,
that the preacher can fulfill the sacred duties to which he is solemnly
committed, and that the congregation can receive the clear and robust teaching
of their religion, free of distortion, dilution, or apology.
That s why each of us should contact our Representative in Congress
and urge support for HR 235, the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act.