Can politics be discussed at church?

HR 235 - Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act


Freedom of speech (even political in nature) in church, mosque, synagogue without losing their tax-exempt status had existed since the beginning. Many political sermons could be found in history. However, in 1954, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a United States Senator then, offered an amendment on a revenue bill going through the Senate that was never debated. The unintended consequences of Mr. Johnson's amendment was and is the fact that churches that are 501(c)(3)s (tax-exempt status) are prohibited from having any type of sermons that might be interpreted as being political at all.

There is nothing in the Johnson amendment that talks about 'code words' - words when used in church may jeopardize the non-exempt status of the church. That was an administrative decision by the Internal Revenue Service that if you as a religious leader, whether you be Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Muslim, if you have these types of sermons and you might mention these words like pro-life or pro-choice, then you could have your 501(c)(3) status jeopardized. The concern by the Internal Revenue Service is that 501(c)(3) organizations may support or oppose a particular candidate in a political campaign without specifically naming the candidate by using code words to substitute for the candidate's name in its message, such as conservative, liberal, prolife, prochoice, antichoice, Republican, Democrat, et cetera. When this occurs, it is quite evident what is happening, and an intervention is taking place.

Court case:

On May 1st, 2004, a bishop of Colorado Springs issued a pastoral letter to all of the Catholics in his diocese. Being a Catholic leader, the bishop does feel very strongly about the pro-life issue; he does feel very strongly about stem cell research; he does feel strongly about euthanasia, the protection of our elderly. So he issued this pastoral letter reminding the Catholics in his diocese that in this year's election they should look carefully at those running for political office.

Now, he did not mention Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, he did not mention anything of that nature or the name of the candidates. But what he did was to issue this pastoral letter. And then Barry Lynn, who is the leader of the Americans for Separation of Church and State, noted in his letter of complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that Bishop Sheridan used 'code words.' Code words like pro-choice, pro-life, liberal, conservative, Democrat or Republican.

The proposed Act (H.R. 235):

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to protect the religious free exercise and free speech rights of churches and other houses of worship.

Amends the Internal Revenue Code to state that churches and other houses of worship shall not lose such designation because of the content, preparation, or presentation of any homily, sermon, teaching, dialectic, or other presentation made during religious services or gatherings.

Bill Link


This bill was introduced by Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. of North Carolina on Jan 8th, 2003. He was given 5 minutes to speak of it on 6/15/2004. (That is almost an 18 months wait.) Then he was given 5 minutes again on 6/21/2004, 6/22/2004, 7/8/2004, 7/21/2004. Nothing else has been done since. No vote, no debate. This bill has also been cosponsored by 165 other representatives (out of 432 representatives). I have not seen any bills cosponsored by so many representatives. Yet I don't know why it is not being moved in the congress.

While during this time, congress had efficiently (in 19 days) passed bill to congradulate Randy Johnson on pitching a perfect game on May 14, 2004. It passed to congratulate the University of Connecticut Huskies for winning the 2004 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men and women's basketball championships on May 4, 2004. It passed to congratule the San Jose Earthquakes for winning the 2003 Major League Soccer Cup on Mar 9, 2004. It passed to congratulate the Detroit Shock for winning the 2003 Women's National Basketball Association championship on Mar 9, 2004.

Cosponsor Representatives from MO and KS:

Rep Akin, W. Todd [MO-2], Rep Blunt, Roy [MO-7], Rep Emerson, Jo Ann [MO-8], Rep Graves, Sam [MO-6], Rep Ryun, Jim [KS-2], Rep Tiahrt, Todd [KS-4].

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