Churches are being "muzzled" by the U.S. government, said Bishop Garland Hunt of Georgia at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The Johnson Amendment, enforced during President Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, prohibits non-profits and churches from speaking about politics. Because of the regulations, pastors and politicians were forced to introduce a bill called The Free Speech Fairness Act to reverse the Johnson-era mandate.
"A preacher should not have to get permission from the IRS to be able to preach to their congregation," Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) said on Wednesday. He introduced the bill, along with Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who's introducing sister legislation in the Senate.
Scalise and Lankford were joined by several pastors, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Cristiana Holcomb, and other freedom lovers concerned that the IRS is casting a shadow over churches. If a church decides not to comply with the government's wishes, they could lose their tax exempt status. That threat, Scalise noted, is not in keeping with the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution.
While this whole Big Brother thing may sound like hyperbole, the situation was all too real for Pastor Khanh Huynh, who preaches at the Vietnamese Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Huynh fought and fled communist Vietnam for the United States and said he enjoyed the freedoms here for a happy 33 years. That all changed in September 2014 when the city of Houston came to his door and served him a subpoena demanding his sermons. The mayor apparently didn't like that he and other pastors in the city were opposed to an ordinance allowing “gender-confused” people to use public restrooms of their choice. They told him he had respond to the subpoena in 10 days or he'd face fines and imprisonment.
The ordeal was so upsetting that Huynh said he hid it from his family for two weeks.
"It's very stressful," he told Townhall. "They know that most of us fled Vietnam to find freedom."
Yet, the government's demands has only emboldened him and his congregation. They refused to comply and judging by Huynh's passion, they don't plan to in the near future.
"We're not going to back down, because we did nothing wrong," he said. "We just speak the word of God on moral issues and we dight for the safety of women and girls."
"She can have our sermon, it's on the internet anyway," he added. "But for us to bring the sermon to her office, we will not."
The congressional leaders and pastors at the free speech press conference said they are encouraged by President Trump's public declaration that he'd help bring freedom of religion back. At his meeting with pastors over the summer, he even mentioned the Johnson Amendment by name, promising to overturn it.