Free Speech in Church

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  2/28/2005
 

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.