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Silencing pastors and talk radio

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Paul M. Weyrich

Chairman and CEO, Free Congress Foundation

William J. Federer, a Missourian, is one of the most cheerful people I have met.

Despite this, Mr. Federer’s writing always has a serious message.

His latest book is entitled "Endangered Speeches."

In it he traces the effort to make certain that preachers were removed from the political process in the 20th Century.

Mr. Federer points out that prior to 1913 preachers never gave the Internal Revenue Service or their 501(c) (3) tax-exempt status a thought because there was no mechanism that applied to them. From 1913 until 1954 most preachers simply ignored IRS and there was no reason for them to be concerned.

Then in 1954, Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, D-Texas, running for re-election, realized that a large group of his state’s preachers opposed him.

So he hastily had Congress enact a law which forbade churches or their pastors from involvement in politics.

It was enough to silence the preachers and LBJ was re-elected comfortably.

One might think that LBJ would have been content to leave well enough alone.

Later, when President Johnson found out that the American Enterprise Institute had assisted his 1964 opponent, Arizona Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, he scared the institute’s William J. Baroody into political uselessness.

It took his organization years to recover.

This year the IRS, which traditionally had been reluctant to interfere with churches, cracked the whip so that most pastors were afraid of losing their church’s tax-exempt status. Church leaders stayed out of the 2008 elections even though there were important moral issues on many state ballots.

Federer criticizes Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, as a modern-day LBJ who has gone after churches and preachers.

He also focuses upon some relevant U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Given the incoming Obama administration’s announced effort to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which some suggest should be renamed the "Censorship Doctrine," this attack upon churches is frightening.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he immediately would file litigation contending that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine constituted unconstitutional censorship and an abridgement of our First Amendment rights.

Such a lawsuit likely would take two years to work its way through the courts.

There is no question that our First Amendment is under assault.

Read Federer’s new book to understand how American churches fit into the political process.

Then gear up for the fight on the renamed Censorship Doctrine and battle for the Internet, whatever it will be called.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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