Late last week, I posted a trial notebook entry concerning churches that are under attack. Over the weekend, I was on the phone with another pastor in a large Baptist church who is also finding himself in a difficult situation. I am increasingly concerned that the ability of pastors to speak out prophetically from their pulpits is in jeopardy. The points of contention come from a number of factors: sometimes its private individuals; other times, its governmental agencies. In either case, the proclamation of the Gospel is generally stifled and pastors become intimidated to speak out on critically important issues for the church and for our country.
Over the last several weeks, I have been working on two major cases involving churches that have ended up in court. These cases are being litigated in both state and federal court. Most of you are familiar with our case involving McLean Bible Church which involves the churchs ongoing legal battle with the county over the teaching of adult education courses as part of its church mission. County officials have argued that this program is outside of the churchs religious mission and, therefore, violates the zoning laws of Fairfax County, Virginia.
In another case out of Florida, we are representing a pastor who has been sued because of the content of his sermon. There is a dangerous trend developing throughout the United States regarding private lawsuits, usually brought by former church members, against pastors because of the nature and content of their sermons. An ominous threat to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion exists when pastors have to look over their shoulders to make sure individuals do not bring them into state or federal court because they dont agree with the messages that are preached.
In addition to the case in Florida, we are also representing a large church in the Midwest concerning very similar issues. The idea that these churches and their pastors would have to have their sermons reviewed by lawyers prior to the messages being delivered is outrageous. I believe that the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech are paramount and protect these pastors in the words that they say and the scriptural messages that they give. It is not the place of the courts to come in and evaluate these messages, thereby subjecting the church and its pastor to lawsuits. Neither case involves political speech; rather they focus on a variety of issues, including Christian education, tithing, and biblical worldviews on a host of issues.
A court regimen that allows these pastors to be subjected to litigation for these messages is a serious threat to all of our religious liberties. We are committed to defending these pastors, churches and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. I will keep you updated on the progress of these cases.
I also encourage you to visit our Spotlight section where Jordan Sekulow, one of the deputy directors of our Government Affairs office, has posted a report from Israel.