A Double Mandate to Silence Religious Freedom

The battle over President Obama's abortion pill mandate does not show signs of letting up any time soon, and it manifests itself almost daily in various skirmishes.

The latest involves Bishop Daniel R. Jenky from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Illinois. Bishop Jenky delivered a homily on April 14 entitled "A Call to Catholic Men of Faith." The bishop's remarks included some rather pointed statements about the Obama administration, stating that it has a "calculated disdain" for the Catholic Church and that the HHS mandate enacted by his administration is a "clear violation of our First Amendment rights."

Bishop Jenky is right about Obama's mandate, but there is also another "mandate" at work that threatens religious freedom. Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the IRS "tattling" on Bishop Jenky that he violated the Johnson Amendment of the IRS Code when he made his remarks about the administration's mandate and urged Catholics to "vote their Catholic consciences" this fall.

AU tattles on churches to the IRS frequently and does so because AU believes a church that is the subject of an AU "complaint" violates its version of the IRS Code. This is also a form of intimidation to cower a church into silence. You see, AU wants the IRS and its officials to be able to mandate what pastors can and cannot say from their pulpits. This "mandate" comes in the form of the Johnson Amendment, added to the tax code in 1954 and applied by the IRS for the last 58 years to censor what a pastor can say from the pulpit. This Johnson Amendment "mandate" is no less of a threat to religious freedom than the Obama mandate is.

If AU has its way, the church in America will not only be mandated to violate its conscience through the Obama mandate, but it will also be mandated to stay silent through the Johnson Amendment mandate while the government acts with impunity to take away its rights. This double mandate is a pernicious attack on the religious freedom of America's churches. Put bluntly, the federal government wants to tell churches to "shut up while we take away your religious freedom."

The IRS will likely not act on AU's "complaint" because it rarely acts on any of AU's "complaints." But if it does, ADF will offer to defend Bishop Jenky and the diocese free of charge because every pastor has a right to speak freely from his pulpit without fearing government censorship or control. The Johnson Amendment mandate is just as unconstitutional as the Obama mandate, and we will fight to have both of them declared for what they are: unconstitutional infringements on our "first freedom," the freedom of religion.

The Christian church in America is in the cross-hairs of a double mandate that threatens religious freedom in an unprecedented way. Bishop Jenky understands the stakes of this battle and is courageously speaking up to protect religious freedom. But Bishop Jenky also framed the battle eloquently in the closing statements from his homily: "No matter what happens in this passing moment, at the end of time and history, our God is God and Jesus is Lord, forever and ever. Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ wins! Christ reigns! Christ commands!"

Let our battle cry in this moment be that of Bishop Jenky's as we stand shoulder to shoulder to protect religious freedom from whatever mandate the government attempts to use to silence it.

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