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New poll shows vast majority of Protestant pastors want end to Johnson Amendment, IRS penalties

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday on behalf of more than 4,000 religious leaders to inform Congress of the results of a new scientific poll showing that 91 percent of pastors want the freedom to speak freely from the pulpit without the threat of government penalties.

The LifeWay Research poll of 1,000 Protestant pastors, conducted Aug. 30 to Sept. 18, shows that 91 percent agree that “pastors should have the right to speak freely from the pulpit without the fear of being penalized by the government.” In addition, 73 percent agree that “Congress should remove the IRS’s power to penalize a church because of the content of its pastor’s sermons.” The poll has a margin of error of approximately 3.2 percent.

“America’s pastors don’t need a federal tax agency to police their sermons,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Churches and their pastors have a constitutionally protected freedom to decide for themselves what they want to say or not say. This poll demonstrates that religious leaders don’t want to be burdened by the continual threat of an IRS investigation and potential penalties based simply on what they say from the pulpit.”

“As our letter to Congress explains, the Free Speech Fairness Act would bring the law into conformity with the First Amendment and restore free speech to our nation’s churches,” Holcomb added. “It will fix the Johnson Amendment, a restriction enacted in 1954 that was never intended to affect churches but has been used to intimidate them ever since.”

The Free Speech Fairness Act allows statements to be made in the ordinary course of a 501(c)(3) organization’s regular and customary activities, so long as the organization does not incur more than minimal incremental costs. Thus, the legislation respects free speech without allowing tax-exempt organizations to purchase political ads for or against a candidate for public office.

“For over sixty years, Section 501c(3) of the Tax Code (the ‘Johnson Amendment’) has forced churches to surrender First Amendment freedoms in exchange for a tax status and empowered federal bureaucrats to dictate what pastors may not say from their pulpits…,” the ADF letter states. “It’s time for Congress to restore a pastor’s right to free speech. The Free Speech Fairness Act does just that. This bill stops the IRS from being speech police, and allows pastors to speak—or not speak—as their conscience requires. America’s pastors have asked for this legislative fix, and you have the opportunity to restore their First Amendment freedoms by including this bill in tax reform.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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