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Shutting Down Dissent By: Paul M. Weyrich
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 21, 2008

Mr. William J. Federer, a Missourian, is one of the most cheerful people I have met. Despite this, Bill Federer’s writing always has a serious message. His latest book is entitled Endangered Speeches. In it, he traces the effort during the 20th Century to assure that preachers were not involved in the political process. Federer points out that prior to 1913 preachers never gave the Internal Revenue Service or their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status a thought because there was no mechanism which applied to them.  From 1913 until 1954, most preachers simply ignored the IRS, as there was no reason for them to be concerned.

In 1954, President Lyndon B. Johnson, running for re-election, heard that a large group of Texas preachers would oppose him. So he hastily had Congress enact a law which forbade churches from involvement in politics. That was enough to silence preachers and LBJ was re-elected comfortably.

One might think that LBJ would have been content to leave well enough alone. However, when he found out that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) had assisted Senator Barry M. Goldwater’s candidacy he scared William Broody, Sr. into political uselessness so that AEI required years to recover.

Meanwhile, the IRS, which traditionally had been reluctant to interfere with churches, this year cracked the whip so that most pastors were afraid of losing their church’s loss of tax-exempt status and thereby stayed out of the 2008 elections even though there were moral issues on many state ballots.

Given the incoming presidential administration’s announced effort to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which some suggest should be renamed the “Censorship Doctrine,” this attack upon churches is frightening. Senator A. Mitchell (Mitch) McConnell, Jr. (R-KY) said he immediately would file litigation contending that reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine constituted unconstitutional censorship and an abridgement of our First Amendment rights. However, such a lawsuit likely would take two years to work its way through the courts. There is no question that our First Amendment is under assault. Read Federer’s book to understand how American churches fit into the political process. Then gear up for the fight on the re-christened Censorship Doctrine and the Internet.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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