Would the Johnson Amendment Have Stopped the War for Independence and the Abolitionist Movement?

250px-First_Baptist_Meetinghouse,_Providence,_RIHad the Johnson Amendment been in effect prior to 1954, the American War for Independence and the abolitionist movement may have never happened.

The Johnson Amendment to the federal tax code prohibits nonprofit, tax-exempt entities from participating in, or intervening in, “any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” This prohibition includes “the publishing or distributing of statements” on behalf of candidates, legislation, or political parties.

The amendment was originally proposed by Texas Senator (and future President) Lyndon B. Johnson to silence and retaliate against the nonprofit political organizations that had been created to support his primary opponent. It was passed in 1954 by a unanimous voice vote without debate.

Although Congress never intended to include churches in the prohibition, “the I.R.S. has steadfastly maintained that any speech by churches that the IRS could construe as supporting or opposing candidates for government office, including sermons from the pulpit, can result in loss of tax exemption,” according to Alliance Defending Freedom.

The Johnson Amendment has had a chilling effect on American churches. Radical atheist organizations like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have mounted public relations campaigns to intimidate churches and pastors. Not only do they spread misinformation about what churches and pastors can/cannot do regarding political involvement, but they have also reported to the IRS those churches who refused to remain silent about issues relating to government.

However, American pulpits have not always been censored by the federal government. Before the enactment of the Johnson Amendment, churches and pastors used their moral authority to speak prophetically to members and the culture about political issues.

From colonial times until the twentieth century, American churches often used their trusted social position to proclaim the Bible’s truth about issues being debated in public.

For example, pastors would frequently endorse or oppose specific candidates for public office, and they shared with their congregations whether a piece of legislation or a candidate’s positions were compatible with biblical principles. Pastors also commonly preached “Election Sermons,” which were given in the audience of public officials to exhort them to govern according to God’s truth and design for society.

Recognizing that a faithful exposition of God’s Word demanded that they preach about political issues, churches and pastors spoke into the civil arena and helped shape the American political debate for centuries. Perhaps this is no more apparent than the indispensable role churches played in the War for Independence, the abolition movement, and early civil rights movements.

John Adams, himself a central figure in the independence movement and the early republic, pointed to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew as having had a “great influence in the commencement” of the American War for Independence. Like many of his contemporaries, Mayhew preached and published sermons that seemed to “revive… animosity against tyranny in church and state.”

It was in church that early Americans learned of their inalienable rights and the proper jurisdiction and role of civil government. According to Adams, the Spirit of 1776 ripened, in part, because “the pulpits thundered!”

Leading up to the Civil War, churches also played a key role in the movement to abolish slavery. Quakers, Wesleyans, American Baptists, Congregationalists, and some Methodists stridently opposed the peculiar institution and mobilized political and social efforts against it, with their churches serving as the center of the action. Churches comprised many of the stops along the “Underground Railroad,” offering their sanctuaries as hiding places for those escaping slavery.

It is no wonder that the abolition of slavery came on the heels of the Second Great Awakening, an Evangelical religious revival during the early nineteenth century that stressed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ and propelled efforts to reform society according to biblical precepts.

Imagine if the Johnson Amendment had been around during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Would American churches have assumed their role as agents of social change in the movements for independence, abolition, and civil rights if their free speech had been muzzled by the federal government?

Churches and pastors have a biblical obligation to share biblical positions on political issues with their members and their communities. Throughout this nation’s history, churches have acted as champions of justice.

Although President Trump campaigned on “totally destroying” the Johnson Amendment, his religious liberty executive order last month failed to make any substantive changes to IRS policy. The ACLU called the executive order a “faux sop to religious conservatives” and an “elaborate photo-op” that “does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process.”

It is time to stop censoring the constitutionally protected religious speech of American pulpits. Pastors who preach and uphold the entirety of the Bible should no longer have to fear the IRS. Congress should not wait any longer to begin the process of repealing the Johnson Amendment.


This post was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.


 

Care About The Poor? Why Withdrawing From Paris Agreement Helps Those Most Vulnerable

3329557-eiffel-tower-2Are you truly concerned about the poor’s economic welfare? If so, you should be celebrating President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw itself from the Paris Agreement.

The Paris climate accord, which was ratified last year, attempts to “bring all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.” Supporters of the agreement claim it is necessary to avert the disastrous consequences of climate change.

Regrettably, the plan’s supporters are committing the greatest economic fallacy, which Henry Hazlitt, the acclaimed economics writer, warned about in his most prominent work, Economics in One Lesson (1946):

“The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of the proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences.”

While laypeople, pundits, scientists, and economists have focused their attention on what Trump’s decision might mean for climate change, these groups have largely ignored the effect of the agreement on poorer American households. Here are three reasons why withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is good for the poor:

 

1. The Paris Agreement raises energy costs for hardworking American households.

Under the agreement, the United States pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level by 2025. This would be accomplished by transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

Although renewable energy will likely become the technology of the future, prematurely transitioning to “greener” sources creates a problem for Americans struggling to make ends meet.

Right now, these alternative sources of energy are far more expensive (and less reliable) than traditional sources. A study published last year found that “electricity from new wind and solar power is 2.5 to 5 times more expensive than electricity from existing coal and nuclear power.”

Until the cost of green energy declines through technological advances and increases in productivity, transitioning to renewable energy too hastily will necessarily cause energy prices to skyrocket. Rising energy prices disproportionately affect those who already have the hardest time affording energy.

Every additional dollar that lower-income families spend on lighting and heating their homes is a dollar that is now no longer available to pay for housing, food, clothes, and books. By raising energy prices, the Paris Agreement would make it harder for these families to afford the things they need.

 

2. Regulations promulgated under the aegis of the Paris Agreement increase prices and harm the economy.

The Paris Agreement saddles producers with burdensome regulations that increase the cost of doing business. Ultimately, these costs are either passed to consumers or are absorbed by businesses, resulting in lower employment and less investment for the capital goods necessary to produce the goods consumers need.

Furthermore, developed economies like the United States rely on affordable, accessible, and reliable energy. Machines on the assembly line and the trucks transporting goods alike require energy to produce and deliver products to consumers.

Most affected by onerous environmental regulations are energy, manufacturing, and shipping firms. Imagine the mom and pop machining shop that would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to comply with increased regulations originating from the Paris accord. That’s tens of thousands of dollars that now cannot be used to raise wages for their workers, hire new employees, purchase more inventory, or invest in capital (think: technology and machines) to produce tomorrow’s goods.

In the long run, total production will decrease, employees will make less money in wages and benefits, and consumers will face higher prices at the market. There will be less wealth, less prosperity, and fewer opportunities, especially for those struggling to find jobs or climb the economic ladder.

 

3. The Paris Agreement redistributes wealth from American taxpayers to international corporations and less developed nations.

The Paris Agreement also initiates a massive redistribution of wealth from developed countries to less developed countries. This will be orchestrated through the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which seeks to help developing countries purchase and construct alternative energy infrastructure.

The Green Climate Fund is the worst form of crony capitalism, guaranteed to benefit politically connected firms, especially those that stand to make millions of dollars in selling green energy technology. Like all government infrastructure programs, it will likely be highly inefficient and rife with corruption.

To make matters worse, the Paris Agreement assures that a significant portion of the multibillion dollar budget for the Green Climate Fund will be financed by American taxpayers. Astoundingly, the agreement places American taxpayers on the hook for bankrolling pricey green energy technologies for other nations.

Where do supporters of the agreement think this money will come from? Have they forgotten that the United States is already $20 trillion in debt with unfunded liabilities (promises of future services) totaling over $200 trillion?

Remember that every dollar taxed by government is a dollar that American families and businesses cannot use to purchase the things they need. Taxes divert money and resources from the private sector, where it is spent more efficiently and according to the needs of consumers, to the public sector, where it is spent inefficiently on programs (like green energy) deemed “worthy” by central planners (in this case, the international community) without concern for the needs of the people in these different countries.

The eventual result of increasing taxes will be less capital available to meet the future needs of producers and consumers. There will be fewer total goods produced and fewer jobs. Prices will rise, and families and small businesses will find it harder to get the credit they need for mortgages and small business loans.

 

Decades ago, Henry Hazlitt alerted his contemporaries about the error of ignoring unintended consequences when analyzing policies. His warning still rings true today:

“The long-run consequences of some economic policies may become evident in a few months. Others may not become evident for several years. Still others may not become evident for decades. But in every case those long-run consequences are contained in the policy as surely as the hen was in the egg, the flower in the seed.”

Regardless of the truthfulness of claims made by climate alarmists, it is important to look beyond good intentions to see how policies, like those springing from the Paris Agreement, would affect the most vulnerable people in society in unintended ways. It is tragic that government policies designed to alleviate one problem create further problems that end up harming people.

It is indisputable that the Paris Agreement would have negatively affected lower-income American families. Fortunately for them, the United States is no longer beholden to the agreement, and it can now pursue environmental policies it considers to be in the best interests of Americans.


This article was originally published by the Mises Institute: https://mises.org/blog/withdrawing-paris-agreement-helps-most-vulnerable.


 

Religious Liberty Advocates Conflicted About Executive Order

donald-trump-libertyAffirming that our liberties are a gift of God that no government can rightfully take away, President Donald Trump today signed the long-awaited executive order on religious liberty.

The executive order has two main components. First, it directs government officials to consider changing regulations to allow conscience-based objections to the contraceptive mandate, which requires insurance plans to cover contraceptives and abortifacients.

Second, it instructs federal agencies to avoid penalizing tax-exempt organizations, including churches, that “speak about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Speaking to the press in the White House Rose Garden before signing the executive order, the president reiterated his belief that “for too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith, bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs.”

While there is hope that today’s executive order will be a first step to restoring religious liberty, there remain grave threats to the fundamental freedom to live according to the dictates of one’s faith and conscience.

Joseph Backholm, President of FPIW, says he is “cautiously optimistic” about the executive order, calling it “a step in the right direction.”

Backholm hopes the executive order will be used by federal agencies to “develop comprehensive rules protecting religious liberties.”

Some religious liberty advocates, including the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson, expressed their concern that the executive order fails to make substantive reforms protecting religious liberty. In a press release today, Alliance Defending Freedom President Michael Ferris said the executive order amounts to “vague instructions to federal agencies [that] simply leaves them wiggle room to ignore [the] gesture.”

A draft of the executive order released in February included far greater protections for religious liberty. That draft protected the rights of those—including federal employees, religious organizations, and some businesses—who believe in traditional marriage and the traditional conception of two genders, male and female. These protections were not included in the executive order signed today.

“Our founding fathers believed that religious liberty was so fundamental that they enshrined it in the very first amendment of our great and beloved constitution,” President Trump said in the Rose Garden press conference today. “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”

On that, Mr. President, we wholeheartedly agree.


This was originally written for Family Policy Institute of Washington.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Betsy DeVos and School Choice

220px-school-education-learning-1750587-hThe liberal media pounced on Betsy DeVos after her confirmation hearing last week, alleging that Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education is a radical Christian who supports “dismantling” public schools.

I teach at one of those private, for-profit, Christian schools that Democrats and their allies in the media are vilifying as one of the greatest threats to our nation’s youth and education system.

Although those opposed to DeVos’ nomination would like to convince you that private and charter schools are designed to serve only affluent whites, in reality, my school’s student body is majority-minority. Many of these kids come from broken homes on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

This isn’t as rare as the media would lead you to believe. Scholarships and voucher systems, whether privately or publicly funded, allow children to succeed in schools their families would otherwise have been unable to afford. In fact, empirical evidence overwhelmingly indicates that voucher programs improve racial integration in schools.

Many of my students were unable to achieve their full potential in their neighborhood public schools. Their parents were growing frustrated with what their children’s schools were teaching and were growing worried about the culture of drugs, promiscuity, and insubordination.

In my experience, low-income and minority families who are given the opportunity to attend schools like the one where I teach are so thankful their kids are able to receive a quality education in a safe and edifying environment.

Some of my students have shared with me their experiences attending local public schools. One of my black students carried a gun with him to school as an early teenager to keep himself safe from gang activity. Drug dogs sweep the halls of local public high schools, which also sometimes use metal detectors to check students for weapons.

Apart from concerns about their children’s safety, many families also feel uneasy about the content of their children’s education. In Washington State, for example, schools are now teaching elementary school children that they can choose their gender. Sexual education curricula teach students to use methods of birth control many parents find morally objectionable. And some teachers, schools, and educational standards distort history and science to promote their pet political agendas.

Many of the most vocal critics of DeVos and the educational philosophy she represents contend that the very existence of private schools with different educational philosophies threatens public schools and our social order. These critics oppose any system of school choice that allows parents to choose the school they want to educate their children.

Contrary to the baseless claims of her critics, Betsy DeVos has never supported “dismantling” the public school system. Instead, she is simply working to ensure that those low- and middle-income families who find their local public schools inadequate can have the same opportunities as wealthier families.

Providing more alternatives to public schools wouldn’t necessarily cause an exodus of children from public to private schools, nor would it require that public schools be “dismantled.”

If, in fact, most public schools offer an education superior to that of comparable private schools, families will decide to leave their kids in the public school to which they’ve been assigned. On the other hand, families who worry about their son or daughter attending public school would be able to move him or her to a school that better meets their needs and reflects their values.

No school or educational philosophy is perfect, and a one-size-fits-all system doesn’t really fit all families and students. That’s why choice is so necessary and important.

I’m especially thankful schools like mine exist to provide families an alternative to unsafe, failing schools that teach an educational philosophy antithetical to traditional Judeo-Christian values. Voucher programs like those supported by Betsy DeVos enable families to pursue whatever means of education works best for their children – and that’s something we should all celebrate.


This op-ed was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Freedom of Association: Does it exist or not?

Last month, fashion designer Sophie Theallet said she would refuse to dress First Lady Melania Trump and encouraged fellow designers to follow her lead.

Believing that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign unleashed “the rhetoric of racism, sexism and xenophobia,” Theallet said that her personal convictions of “diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles” disallowed her from “dressing or associating in any way” with the first lady.

“As a family-owned company, our bottom line is not just about money. We value our artistic freedom and always humbly seek to contribute to a more humane, conscious and ethical way to create in this world,” Theallet wrote in an email to the fashion designers.

Many of those on the political left cheered Theallet’s courage in taking a bold stand against ideas she finds contemptible. After all, isn’t Theallet’s decision to discriminate against the president-elect’s wife protected under freedom of association, the constitutional right that enables her to decide for herself who she will do business with?

Maybe freedom of association only applies to those on the left?

Ironically, the same people that extolled Theallet’s choice not to dress Melania Trump have long denied that Christians share the same right exercised by the fashion designer.

Here in Washington State, Barronelle Stutzman, a septuagenarian Christian florist, is facing the wrath of the state after she refused to decorate a same-sex wedding. Like Theallet, Stutzman believed that her moral conviction demanded that she not provide a service. And like Theallet, Stutzman felt that her conviction precluded her from using her artistic talents to support or endorse something she views as morally inappropriate.

Unlike Theallet, who was celebrated by liberals everywhere, Stutzman ended up in court being sued for discrimination by the homosexual couple and Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Because the state has sued her in her personal and professional capacities, she stands to lose her home, life savings, retirement, and business.

In oral arguments presented to the Washington State Supreme Court last month, Attorney General Ferguson claimed that Christians surrender their right to act upon their religious convictions when they start businesses.

To make matters worse, Stutzman isn’t alone. Christians in other states are also being targeted for exercising their right to free association – the same right that protects Theallet’s decision not to dress the wife of a man who holds views she believes to be immoral.

According to the ACLU, “Religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others…. The ACLU works to defend religious liberty and to ensure that no one is either discriminated against nor denied services because of someone else’s religious beliefs.”

I’d love to ask the ACLU why they believe it’s permissible for a fashion designer to discriminate against First Lady Trump because of political convictions, yet it’s unacceptable for a Christian to refrain from using her artistic expression for an event she finds morally objectionable.

Our nation’s founding fathers believed that all individuals, including business owners, were entitled to freedom of association. Businesses and customers had the right to decide whether they wanted to do business with someone else. If the other party engaged in morally objectionable behaviors, or if the other party was asking you to violate your personal convictions, then you had the right to refuse to do business with them.

Yet the political left, which has long denied that businesses and individuals possess this fundamental right in issues of sexual orientation and religious conviction, seems perfectly fine with a fashion designer not providing a professional service to the First Lady of the United States.

This intellectual dishonesty from the political left is noxious.

America needs to decide whether it will remain faithful to its historical tradition of protecting freedom of association and other conscience rights for everyone, regardless of their religious and political beliefs. If not, it needs to apply the standard consistently. There shouldn’t be a different standard for Christian florists and liberal fashion designers.


This article was originally written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Just Like Roe, Marriage Isn’t Settled, Despite What Trump Says

58177a15150000d804530d10In his first interview since winning the presidential election, President-elect Donald J. Trump assured the American people that he won’t advocate reversing the Supreme Court’s decision last year requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Speaking with CBS News correspondent Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes, Donald Trump indicated that his administration will abandon efforts to overturn the controversial Obergefell decision. The news media has interpreted Trump’s support for same-sex marriage as a sign that the conservative movement has surrendered on the contentious issue.

“I’ve been a supporter [of the LGBT group],” Trump said in the interview this past Sunday. “[Marriage equality] is already settled. It’s law… These cases [regarding same-sex marriage] have gone to the Supreme Court, they’ve been settled, and I’m fine with that.”

In Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the Supreme Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment as requiring states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Court’s decision to force states to give equal treatment to same-sex marriages “has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his dissent. “Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be…. Five lawyers have closed the debate [about same-sex marriage] and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law.”

While President-elect Trump may be willing to accept the unconstitutional edict from the Supreme Court, Republicans and conservative Christians shouldn’t abandon efforts to restore traditional marriage.

Conservatives know that laws encouraging traditional nuclear families – consisting of a father, a mother, and their children – strengthen communities.

Furthermore, numerous sociological studies indicate that children raised within intact traditional families are healthier and happier. These children are also more likely to become successful, well-adjusted adults.

Our laws should reflect this social and biological reality. Just as our laws affirm that adultery and polygamy corrode the natural order and weaken families, so too should our laws reflect the truth that normalizing homosexual relationships isn’t conducive to maintaining a healthy society.

When trying to determine which approach should be used to oppose same-sex marriage, conservatives should be careful to avoid the pitfalls that derailed the movement against no-fault divorce. As states began adopting no-fault divorce laws during the 1970s and 1980s, many on the religious right articulately defended the sanctity of covenantal marriage, warning about the harm to children and communities caused by broken families.

Over time, however, the movement abandoned its role as prophet, conceding the issue of no-fault divorce to those who contended for the legal ability to divorce their spouse for any number of personal reasons. As religious conservatives began backing away from the issue, more states passed no-fault divorce laws, contributing to the near 50% divorce rate among married couples today.

Instead, conservatives concerned about the sanctity of marriage should mimic the tactics of the pro-life movement. Despite the monumental legal loss of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), people of faith have remained steadfastly opposed to the abortion on demand. Pastors, priests, and layman alike have lovingly explained how the inherent dignity of human life, created in the image of the Creator, disallows the notion that a mother has the right to choose to end her pregnancy. Likewise, researchers have published scientific studies detailing the capability of unborn babies to feel pain.

By mobilizing churches and congregations to advocate pro-life policies despite early legal losses, the pro-life movement has made significant gains over the last couple decades. In the wake of Obergefell, Christians should follow the model of political activism and social persuasion that has been so effectively utilized by the pro-life movement.

So here’s the bottom line, conservatives: Don’t give up on the sanctity of marriage just because the Republican in the White House refuses to get involved in the fight. We must continue agitating for a political order that better reflects natural law and the reality of the human experience, even when it’s not politically expedient. Sociologists, psychologists, other researchers should continue publishing empirical studies detailing how same-sex marriage adversely affects couples, children, and communities.

Marriage isn’t a lost cause. Although it may seem like society – including some prominent Republicans – is accepting the falsehood that same-sex marriage is a normal and healthy family arrangement, we must remain faithful to the truth, recognized for thousands of years, that marriage between one man and one woman forms the basis for resilient communities and healthy families.

Just like Roe v. Wade isn’t settled, same-sex marriage isn’t settled, either.


This article was originally published by the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

The Morning After.

America has decided. Mr. Trump will become President Trump on January 20, 2017. Until about 9:00 pm last night, I adamantly believed it was impossible. I was wrong.

Republicans and fellow conservatives: This is your opportunity to prove that principles supersede party by holding President Trump’s feet to the fire. The Republican that will occupy the White House is not a conservative. He doesn’t share your values. He’s not a fiscal conservative, he’s not a social conservative, and he’s not a constitutionalist.

Don’t relinquish your principles and values to defend the man in the White House. Don’t sacrifice years of hard work for momentary political gains. Don’t do anything that may compromise your character and your witness.

Our Constitution, our prosperity, and our traditional Judeo-Christian values are more important than defending the reputation of any one man. Don’t forget that.

It’s time to start praying that God gives wisdom, prudence, discernment, and protection to President-elect Donald J. Trump: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).