Pastors tell IRS: “Stay out of our sermons!” IRS keeping sermon censorship rules in force despite Trump promise
Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON D.C. – A group of religious leaders is fighting to keep the government from censoring their worship services. In FFRF v. Trump, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is asking a Wisconsin federal court to order the IRS to enforce its regulations that explicitly forbid pastors, priests, imams, and rabbis to speak to their congregations on important issues where politics and faith overlap. But as a group of religious leaders including Chicago-based Reverend Charles Moodie told the court last night, neither the government nor FFRF should be in the business of editing sermons.
Reverend Moodie is an inner-city Chicago pastor who ministers in a neighborhood plagued by violence, drugs and poverty. He preaches about social and political issues that affect his congregation, including protecting the most vulnerable in society. But for decades, relying on a 1954 law known as the Johnson Amendment, the IRS has ordered churches to censor their sermons on certain issues, and threatened massive punishment if churches don’t toe the line. Legal scholars on all sides of the political spectrum have called the IRS’s intrusive rule “indefensible” and “one of the most sweeping violations of the First Amendment in American history.” In May, President Trump issued an Executive Order stating that the IRS should not enforce the rules. FFRF then filed its lawsuit to demand that the IRS start enforcing the pulpit speech restrictions despite the Executive Order.
“Pastors, priests, imams, and rabbis shouldn’t have to get the IRS’s permission just to preach candidly to their congregations,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel at Becket, a non-profit religious liberty law firm that defends people of all faith. “IRS sermon censorship is bad for the church and it’s bad for the state. This is one place where a little more separation of church and state would go a long way.”
Last night, the Department of Justice told the court hearing FFRF’s case that President Trump’s May promise was meaningless, and that FFRF should ignore the IRS’s stance against pulpit speech. Becket has asked the Court to instead reject FFRF’s suit outright as a violation of the separation of church and state. In addition to Reverend Moodie, Becket is also representing Wisconsin-based Pastor Koua Vang of Hmong Baptist Ministry, Father Patrick Malone, and Father Malone’s church, Holy Cross Anglican Church of Milwaukee.
“While Americans have good-faith disagreements about religion and politics, we should all agree that the taxman has no business telling religious leaders what to say during worship services,” said Blomberg.
This is the second time in three years FFRF has tried to silence faith. Becket intervened to protect pastors’ right to preach without government censorship two years ago, in FFRF v. Koskinen, prompting FFRF to retreat and dismiss its lawsuit.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at email@example.com or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).