Gene Kapp: Jay, an important piece of legislation surfacing now in the House of Representatives.
Jay Sekulow: It sure is Gene, you had the opportunity on our behalf to speak with our good friend, Congressman Walter Jones out of North Carolina on an issue that I think will be a very significant piece of legislation, already is, and that is the piece of legislation that will remove this muzzle that's in place against pastors especially in campaign seasons on talking about issues from a moral perspective when there's a political campaigns going on. With the threat of IRS tax-exempt status being revoked, this is very serious. So you had the opportunity to speak to a very good friend of ours, a congressman from North Carolina, Walter Jones, who really is taking the leadership on this and is committed to seeing this kind of relief for churches put in place. This is a very important interview, I encourage people to listen to Gene Kapp's interview with our good friend Walter Jones.
Gene Kapp: Joining us now is a very special guest, Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina. Congressman, welcome to the broadcast.
Congressman Jones: Thank you. I'm delighted to be on your show and I am very pleased to be talking about the issue of HR 2357.
Gene Kapp: Let's get into that. This is a very important piece of legislation, and what's the name of the bill, and what are we talking about, Congressman?
Congressman Jones: Gene, the title of the bill is the Houses Of Worship Political Speech Protection Act, and let me tell you a little bit of the history and why this bill in my opinion is needed. Most people when I talk to them about the fact that the ministers, the priests, the rabbis actually are somewhat muzzled by the Internal Revenue Service, and citizens will say to me, "Why, I've never heard about that. What are you talking about? In 1954, then Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson apparently was running for re-election, and there was a charitable, one or two charitable groups in Texas, that quite frankly were supporting his opponent. Johnson decided to muzzle the churches and the charitable groups by putting an amendment, that was what they call in the Senate and the House, "Unanimous Consent", meaning there was really no vote on it. It was accepted by the majority side and the minority side without a recorded vote. And what Johnson did, was actually to put, if you will, to put the Internal Revenue service in the pulpit by saying that those in the pulpit would have to eliminate their political speech. You know what bothered me, as I'm not an attorney, I'm a non-attorney, but the fact is that the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech. And Gene, in my opinion, that should apply to the men and women in the pulpit.
Gene Kapp: Well, you're exactly right, and listeners to this broadcast, Congressman, know about a case that we were involved with for a number of years, I'm sure you are familiar with. It involved the Church At Pierce Creek in New York State.
Congressman Jones: Right. Absolutely.
Gene Kapp: They had their tax-exempt status removed by the IRS for publishing an ad during the presidential campaign for President Clinton some years ago that dealt with a wide variety of issues, and the church spoke out on these "moral issues of the day." They were attacked by the IRS, and this was a protracted legal battle.
Congressman Jones: Gene, that's exactly right, and truthfully, the way I look at this, prior to Lyndon Johnson putting this amendment in, the church had never had a problem. And so when you know the history, that Senator Johnson did this in spite, because there was a church or a charitable group that was opposed to his re-election, I mean, to me that is just unacceptable, quite frankly.
Gene Kapp: Let's set the stage here, we're really not talking about making churches political organizations are we, Congressman?
Congressman Jones: No sir. Absolutely not: let me give you an example. This actually happened in my district this past election. A good friend of mine is a Roman Catholic. He's a strong pro-life person. He went to his priest the Sunday before the election and asked the priest to make two statements. Al Gore is pro-choice, George Bush is pro-life; and the priest told him he could not do it. And my friend asked him and said, "Why not?" He said because there is a restriction from the Internal Revenue service as to what I can and cannot say.
Gene Kapp: So these churches and these houses of worship really have to walk on a very thin line when it comes to talking about these kinds of issues from the pulpit, correct?
Congressman Jones: Absolutely. Gene, that's why I've been working with Jay and Colby on these issues and other conservative groups. Again, we're talking about the constitutional right of those men and women who are ministers, priests, rabbis, whatever their faith might be, that they have a certain right in that pulpit. If we remember back to the 1830's, and obviously I would not remember that but from reading, when DeToqueville came to this great nation, what was he impressed with when he traveled around America? Gene, he was impressed with the flame and the fire in the pulpit. Again, when we think about the fact that the church has never had anyone to complain about what they were saying in the pulpit until Lyndon Johnson put this amendment on the revenue bill going through the Senate, and they had no hearings, they did not even have a debate on the floor of the Senate. It was just accepted.
Gene Kapp: I think this is revelation for many of our listeners, that this piece of legislation that you're introducing now is really designed to correct something that began many, many, years ago.
Congressman Jones: Absolutely, 1954, and you know, again, we're talking about men and women who are preachers - and I keep using priests and rabbis - in this country a man who is serving our Lord no matter whether they be a Jew or Protestant, in all fairness they are guaranteed by the Constitution the right to speak their minds and their heart, and that should apply to the pulpit.
Gene Kapp: Let me ask you this, what are your constituents telling you, Congressman, not only in North Carolina but other people you've talked with around the country when it comes to dealing with these issues from the pulpit. I mean we have a long history in this country of Americans turning towards their churches and their houses of worship to deal with the moral issues of the day whether it be abortion, whether it is stem cell research, whether it is a host of other issues. Americans turn to their houses of worship to engage in this discussion, to examine these moral issues of the day, correct?
Congressman Jones: Gene that's exactly right. If those of us of faith, I acknowledge every time that I speak, a civic club, a church group - sometimes I've been in the pulpit myself - this nation was built on Judeo-Christian principles, and if this nation is going to remain a strong nation, then it must remember its foundation which again was built on Judeo-Christian principles.
Gene Kapp: We're talking about the Houses Of Worship Political Speech Protection Act. It is HR 2357. It has been introduced, correct?
Congressman Jones: Yes sir.
Gene Kapp: And where do we stand on it now, Congressman?
Congressman Jones: Well I have quite frankly talked to the leadership. I spoke to Dick Army yesterday, who is the majority leader. I told him about this legislation, and he's encouraged me to talk to one of his top staffers to bring that staff person information, what the bill does. It's a very small bill; it's about a page and a half. Then I have talked to the committee, subcommittee of jurisdiction. It would go to the oversight committee on the House Ways and Means. And what I'm really trying to do is work with conservative groups throughout this nation, and I guess some not so conservative, is that we should have a hearing on this bill, I'm hoping sometime in September. Because Gene, again I'm not an attorney, but I just, so much believe in the rights of the American people that is guaranteed by the Constitution that I don't want to see the federal government - and those people that talk about the separation of church and state, how about the fact that the Internal Revenue Service has a veil a over the pulpit? Is that not the state going into the churches?
Gene Kapp: Well, I'll tell you, Congressman Jones, the listeners to this broadcast know very well that it's those kind of issues that we engage daily here at the American Center for Law and Justice. And we, quite frankly, have our eyes focused on in Washington DC. I know that Colby and our team in Washington has been working with you and following developments here very closely. If you had to lay out the landscape on this particular piece of legislation, what kind of support do you think you will be able to generate for this?
Congressman Jones: Gene, I'm going to need the help of your listeners and certainly the Center. Colby and Jay and Rick have been with me on this from about a year ago when we started, Colby and I started talking about a year and a half ago about this legislation, how we should count should and move forward with that. What it's going to take is the people that listen to your show and these other shows to contact their member of Congress, tell them about HR 2357. Ask that member of Congress to join me in trying to push for a hearing on this bill sometime in September. They would join me by adding their name to this bill.
Gene Kapp: You want the hearings so that we can have some discussion about this and really air this publicly, correct?
Congressman Jones: Absolutely, that's what it's all about. I think again that it is so unfair that any person in the pulpit would feel somewhat handcuffed because of some amendment that Lyndon Johnson put on in 1954 to muzzle people in his state, and to me that is just absolutely unacceptable, because we're guaranteed freedoms based on the Constitution.
Gene Kapp: We're talking about the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act introduced by Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina. Congressman thanks so much for being with us today and sharing this most important information.
Congressman Jones: Thank you so much and God be with you.
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Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He is author of the New York Times Bestseller, Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can’t Ignore. He hosts “Jay Sekulow Live” – a daily radio show which is broadcast on more than 850 stations...
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