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IRS: Pastors Must Censor Their Sermons?

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Pastors may soon have more freedom in the pulpit when it comes to preaching on politics and social issues without risking their churches' tax exempt status.

A coalition of Republican leaders and attorneys are pushing a measure that would restrict the enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a law from the 1950s they believe was manipulated to violate pastors' free speech and freedom of religion.

"Today, the IRS can use the Johnson Amendment to tell pastors what they can and cannot preach. This law aims to censor your sermon if the IRS labels it political," Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement.

That is why Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Jody Hice, R-Ga., introduced the Free Speech Fairness Act in the House Wednesday. The bill would prevent the IRS from using the Johnson Amendment to censor churches.

"It's time that we eliminate the targeting of the IRS. Enough is enough and this has been going on for far too long. And this is absolutely unconscionable that our government would force individuals to choose between their constitutionally protected rights or their faith," Hice said.

ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley says that although the Johnson Amendment "was never intended to affect churches," it has still been used to "intimidate" pastors into censoring what they say from the pulpit.

"No tax exemption can be based on a requirement that a church or any other non-profit organization give up a constitutionally protected freedom, including free speech," he added. "Americans don't need the IRS to be the referee."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is also a strong supporter of the bill. He says politicians and government should stop getting in the way of many pastors' constitutional rights.

"Government bureaucrats should not be the bouncers to the doorway of freedom of speech and freedom of religion," he said.

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