For the past 56 years, the Internal Revenue Service has been a poorly qualified and often discriminatory watchdog of America’s houses of worship – selectively enforcing a law that censors the First Amendment free speech rights of religious institutions.


Let’s not forget that this IRS prohibition on endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit was not born out of some desire to bring constitutional clarity to the issue, or even to draw a bright line on church/state issues. No, this law was put in place for one simple reason:  political payback.


It all began in 1954, when then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson sought political retribution against an opponent who was assisted in his campaign by two non-profit organizations.  As a bill to revise the tax code was being debated on the floor of the Senate, LBJ pushed a little-noticed amendment that barred all tax-exempt groups – including churches – from participating in political activity.  The penalty:  loss of tax-exempt status.  A heavy price to pay for exercising their free speech rights.


Not much has changed about this issue since we debated it here two years ago.  And what I said then is still true today. This law needs to go. There needs to be a legislative remedy.  Congress needs to act and remove this government-mandated muzzle.


On another issue we follow closely, some important court decisions involving the words “under God” found in the Pledge of Allegiance.


I’m glad to see that a federal appeals court rejected a Texas parent’s bid to have “under God” removed from the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit correctly concluded that the Texas pledge can indeed reference God because several other state pledges and the national pledge reference God or divine grace. 


In writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, Judge E. Grady Jolly said: “We conclude that the use of ‘under God’ acknowledges but does not endorse religious belief. . . .Despite the challenged ‘under God’ amendment, the pledge’s effect remains patriotic; its religious component is minimal and, when contextualized, clearly understandable as an acknowledgment of the state’s religious heritage.”


That decision comes just a few weeks after a federal court in Wisconsin tossed out a suit  by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenging the engravings of the words “under God” in the Pledge as well as the national motto at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. 


The court reached the conclusion that we advocated in our amicus brief representing 50 members of Congress: that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing and the suit should be dismissed. 


We’re also awaiting the outcome of another Pledge lawsuit filed by the FFRF. Oral arguments took place last month at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit where we’ve asked the appeals court to uphold a lower court decision that determined that the Pledge should not be removed from New Hampshire schools because it embraces patriotism, not religion. 


Barry, let’s keep the IRS out of churches and the words “under God” in the Pledge.


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