American Family News - ACLJ: Legislation Would Choke Out Churches' Grassroots Efforts
January 16, 2006
by Jim Brown, American Family News
The American Center for Law and Justice has initiated a campaign to remove provisions from legislation in the House and Senate that would restrict the operations of churches and non-profits by classifying them as grassroots lobbying firms.
The ACLJ has already compiled three memorandums of law that have been circulated to dozens of House and Senate members and is in direct consultation with congressional staff to work on grassroots opposition to two measures -- H.R. 4682 and S. 1. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice, says the groups that will be the most affected by the legislation are church pastors with TV ministries, radio ministries, and other pro-family groups that are addressing the social issues of the day.
For example, the attorney explains, the mere fact that many of those ministries purchase airtime "is enough to trigger this act and have the church now have to register as a grassroots lobbyist." Sekulow calls that not only "absurd" but, in his estimation, "one of the greatest encroachments into political and religious free speech that we've ever seen."
The "draconian" measures, as Sekulow describes them, would affect more than just organizations. "Even private individuals who voluntarily pay for media to distribute important messages to the general public on political matters would be impacted," he states on the ACLJ website.
According to the ACLJ spokesman, the rationale behind the move to silence churches is obvious. He points out that pastors who are addressing the moral issues of the day have been able to mobilize "tens of thousands" of individuals to speak out on various issues, often by contacting their elected officials directly by e-mail or phone. Sekulow suggests that many on Capitol Hill want that stopped.
"They know the effectiveness of conservative Christians churches that have television and radio ministries," he says. "They know the effectiveness of grassroots organizations like ours, like the American Family Association, and others. They know the impact that they can have -- and this is a direct attempt to shut this down."
Although Utah Senator Robert Bennett has introduced a proposed amendment that would remove the grassroots lobbying portion of the bill, Sekulow says the amendment will still be hotly contested. Anticipating a battle, the ACLJ has unleashed a team of legal, grassroots, and government affairs experts to derail provisions in the legislation. And the ACLJ is prepared to take legal action if the bills become law, says Sekulow. The attorney explains why.
"The First Amendment of the Constitution provides for the right of the citizens to 'petition the government for a redress of grievances,'" he says, quoting from the same amendment that guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to assemble. "[But these] proposals have no such protection for the ability of our citizens to petition the government."
In essence, says Sekulow, the proposed legislation attempts to override the U.S. Constitution -- and Congress, he adds, has no authority to amend the Constitution on its own accord.