Tuesday, October 8, 2002
By Rev. Louis P. Sheldon
Chairman, Traditional Values Coalition
Washington, DC – On October 2, the House of Representatives voted 178-239 to defeat the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act (H.R. 2357) offered by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).
H.R. 2357 was designed to revise IRS code to remove restrictions placed on churches and non-profit organizations in 1954 by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson. Prior to 1954, churches and non-profits had no such restrictions on their freedom of speech or their right to speak out in favor or against political issues or candidates.
The history of this IRS gag order is instructive. It began with the fraudulent election of Johnson to the Senate in 1948. It has been well established by both conservative and liberal historians that Lyndon Johnson’s election to the Senate in 1948 was won by massive voter fraud. Known as “Landslide Lyndon,” this mean-spirited political operative was “elected” by only 87 votes. His challenger, Coke Stevenson challenged his election and presented credible evidence that hundreds of votes for Johnson had been faked. Johnson, however, was successful in blocking Stevenson’s effort by the clever use of court injunctions.
In 1954, Johnson was facing re-election to the Senate and was being aggressively opposed by two non-profit anti-Communist groups that were attacking Johnson’s liberal agenda. In retaliation, Johnson inserted language into the IRS code that prohibited non-profits, including churches, from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office. In effect, this thoroughly corrupt man used the power of the IRS to silence his opposition. Unfortunately, it worked.
The legislation proposed by Rep. Jones was designed to overturn Johnson’s vindictive gag order against his political opposition. There is no reason for this gag order to remain in effect, but Congress apparently thinks it must perpetuate bad public policy simply because it exists.
Organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State continue to claim that this Johnson gag order must be upheld to protect “church/state separation.” This is irrational and fails to take into account the entire history of religious freedom in the United States.
Throughout our nation’s history—both before and after the American Revolution—our nation’s pastors freely spoke out on the political and moral issues of the day. It was their duty and their right under the Constitution to preach against immorality and corruption in the political and the moral realm. Historian James H. Hutson, writing in Religion and the Founding of the American Republic notes: “Preachers seemed to vie with their brethren in other colonies in arousing their congregations against George III.” And, as Hutson discovered, the House of Representatives sponsored church services in its chambers for nearly 100 years. These services only ended when convenient transportation was available to take Members of Congress home for the weekend.
It is interesting to observe that our Founding Fathers and our first elected officials didn’t have any notion of “church/state separation” so vehemently endorsed by Americans United and other modernist groups. Our Founders valued religion and wrote the First Amendment to protect the free expression of religious beliefs—and the freedom to speak out on the moral issues—including those involving politics and politicians.
The disservice that Lyndon Johnson did to religious freedom has yet to be undone, but in the next session of Congress, perhaps H.R. 2357 will be passed—as it should be—to undo Johnson’s vengeful action against his political opponents. Let’s finally exorcise our public policies of the sad legacy of Landslide Lyndon.