Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

Nation built on individual rights


May 10, 2017

President Donald Trump signed an order Thursday that effectively overturns a law prohibiting tax-exempt organizations from political activities for or against individual political candidates.

The chief beneficiaries of this order are conservative Christian churches whose leaders have been clamoring to repeal the tax-code measure for decades.

They say this measure violates their First Amendment religious rights.

I beg to differ. It is Trump’s ruling that effectively restricts religious freedom to all but those religious conservatives who apparently think their religious freedom includes imposing their beliefs on others.

Trump has asked federal agencies to find ways around the Johnson amendment, a 1954 tax-code law passed by Congress, not a Constitutional amendment, that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, especially including churches, from working for or against the election of candidates for office.

The Johnson amendment was designed to shield nonprofit organizations from political influence. Most nonprofits, including many churches, support the amendment for that reason.

The amendment has been mostly ineffective. It never stopped Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other conservative Christian leaders from making their pro-Republican candidate feelings obvious.

It never stopped the Berrigan brothers, radical left-wing Roman Catholic priests, from making obvious their opposition to Republican President Richard Nixon, either.

Repealing the amendment, however, could create a potentially dangerous mingling of politics and religion that would not be healthy for either.

Elected officials openly beholden to churches could easily be pressured into denying rights to many religious minorities, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist or adherents to any other belief system, not to mention the LGBT community.

Examples: Muslim women could be barred from wearing hijabs. Essential services could be denied to homosexuals for no other reason than their sexuality.

Politicians could easily turn churches into thinly disguised political action committees mainly bent on raising campaign funds.

The First Amendment to the Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The first clause clearly implies that your right to exercise your religion cannot legally impede my right to exercise another religion or to adhere to none at all.

Even if the majority of Americans call themselves Christian, we are not by definition a Christian nation.

We are a nation built on individual rights guaranteed by a living, breathing, amendable Constitution.

Thank God.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at: [email protected]


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