In my last post I mentioned Michele Bachmann’s intent to abolish any law limiting political speech in churches. To be specific, she said
We silence the pastors because of a law that Lyndon Johnson put into effect in the 1950s – because he didn’t want them to say something against him. What I would do is back the repeal of that law so that we could exercise First Amendment rights everywhere including in this church and every pulpit.
Apparently this wasn’t a spontaneous declaration. In 2006 a Minnesota pastor came under the scrutiny of the IRS for allowing Ms. Bachmann to do a speech in his church. Then there have been occasions when Ms. Bachmann has spoken to a Bible Church, an Assembly of God congregation, a Lutheran church and a non-denominational evangelical church – all in Iowa – on Sunday mornings while campaigning for President.
Strictly speaking, the law doesn’t prohibit any kind of speech at all. What it does is limit who may claim tax exempt status, i.e., an organization “which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” So, if an organization wants tax-exempt status it must follow certain guidelines about political speech; there’s a financial toll to be paid for being too political, but this isn’t quite communist oppression.
All in all, I’ll take Lyndon Johnson over Michele Bachmann on this issue. If she prefers political speech to theological speech she should do just what she’s doing: be a politician. But churches are supposed to proclaim the gospel and the rest of God’s revealed will, not tussle over political candidates. Thankfully, the magistrate in the form of the tax man might just be protecting the gospel from Bachmann and her friends.