The First Amendment declares, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
A potential court case could directly affect 45 Oklahoma churches (and indirectly hit all Americans) by determining if either the “free exercise” of religion clause or “freedom of speech” provision of the amendment is negated in cases where the words spoken are a preacher's political endorsement issued from the pulpit of a church with tax-exempt status.
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, 45 Oklahoma churches participated in Pulpit Freedom day this year, endorsing political candidates during a service to provoke IRS action. At issue is a 1954 law making it illegal for tax-exempt organizations to endorse or oppose any candidate. Now the secular Freedom From Religion Foundation has sued the IRS for failure to enforce the law. The case could determine if the government can, in fact, restrict the free exercise of speech and/or religion where churches get a tax break.
The current restrictions make little sense. A preacher can urge a congregation to consider their faith's beliefs when voting, but can't explicitly acknowledge which candidate's stance most closely mirrors a church's teachings. The issue affects both Republicans and Democrats. In particular, black churches have long been a focal point of political activity in that community; the civil rights struggle was inseparable from religion-based logic and church organization.
Clearly, church leaders should be wary of being seen as agents of a political party rather than adherents of a higher power. But the world will be a worse place if we allow government to dictate sermon points made by the Martin Luther Kings of the future.