Endangered Speeches

Government should not be in the business of regulating public discourse—whether religious or political.
One of the delights of pastoring New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., is that our campus is situated in the shadow of the United States Air Force Academy. The academy draws thousands of America's sharpest young men and women, and New Life gets the benefit of a large number of these cadets attending our services.

Recently, an academy alum-turned-civilian-lawyer filed a lawsuit against the branch of service that funded his and his two sons' educations. Alleging that the academy's religious climate violated his sons' First Amendment right to religious freedom, Michael Weinstein is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting Air Force personnel from persuading others of anything religious while on duty.

The lawsuit's premise is absurd: we entrust these people with the world's most advanced weaponry and assign them to analyze sensitive geopolitical issues, but we can't trust them to discuss religion without government protection? The implications of the suit are alarming for the church in America, as it would establish a precedent for the federal government to moderate religious discourse.

Two miles south of our church campus is Focus on the Family. Last week, a liberal political group publicly called for a government investigation of Focus' political involvement. Their claim? As a non profit organization, a privately funded family-values advocacy organization should not be involved in public discourse.

A few miles west of Focus on the Family is the Flying W Ranch, a top tourist attraction, featuring authentic Western food and entertainment. The Flying W Wranglers, the outfit's critically acclaimed music group, has recently come under such pressure for its gospel music that the organization sent three band members packing.

These secular critics want to limit the expression of people whose ideas are anathema to them. These three situations in our city point to a rising cultural resistance to evangelicalism in America. A small but vocal minority is duping the rest of the country into thinking that free religious discourse violates our national charter.

There are two strands of this thinking. The first is that religious people and institutions ought to be regulated in their participation in public discussion. Under this logic, having any faith conviction makes a person dangerous.

Second is that businesses need to restrain from religious expression, lest any differently believing person be offended by the reminder that a majority of Americans believe one particular way. Under this logic, it is egregious that national expression would reflect national tradition.

Of course, these sentiments are always cloaked in outrage at any establishment of a state religion. But that argument is a straw man: no one on any side is advocating that America abolish the Establishment Clause and make Christianity the official state religion.

Opponents of religious organizations' political speech are quick to point to the IRS regulations governing the political activity of a non profit organization. But there is nothing in the IRS rule that is constitutionally mandated. In fact, it didn't even come into being until the 1950s, when Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson inserted language into the IRS tax code that prevented 501(c)(3) organizations from speaking against political candidates. Since then, this IRS gag order has erroneously been used to limit the political speech of religious non profits.

The IRS rules are part of civil law, and we must submit to them. But, we do not have to pretend they are right, nor do we have to act as if they cannot be changed. The gag order has infringed on Americans' most basic and sacred rights, and that intrusion has given license for anti-freedom zealots to attempt to trample the responsibilities of religious organizations.

As evangelical leaders, we should be the staunchest defenders of freedom. Someone needs to do the ACLU's job for them, since they have abdicated their role as First Amendment protectors in favor of hyper-liberal activism.

Who better to defend civil liberty than we? After all, "It was for freedom that Christ has set us free." Simply put: government should not be in the business of regulating speech—religious or political.


Ted Haggard pastors New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is the author of many books and is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Leaders are readers! Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman all for $24. YES - I'm a leader!

Ministry Today Subscription Special - Subscribe to Ministry Today magazine today and get 12 issues (2 full years) plus Amplified Leadership, a free leadership book for only $24.

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
  • Discouragement can be a serious struggle.

    Guard Your Spirit Against These 4 Crippling Attacks

    Are you struggling this Valentine's Day with one of these discouraging issues?

  • Some of the toughest lessons reap the greatest rewards.

    10 Tough Lessons Every Pastor Should Remember in Ground-Shaking Trials

    One is that your suffering may turn out to be the highest compliment the Father ever gave you.

  • Why Many Christians Misunderstand This Crucial Leadership Trait

    Great leadership doesn't start with a great education, although that is incredibly valuable. ...

  • Worship leaders, keep your team's attitude in check.

    This Can Quickly Erode a Worship Team's Culture

    God has given us talent and He calls for excellence, but excellence with this is not honoring ...

  • Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Watch how God can take one spark and turn it into a wildfire that impacts your ministry, your community and even future generations.

  • Your Source of Unlimited Kingdom Energy and Power

    Jesus said that we can do greater works than He did and that He will do whatever we ask in His Name.

  • What reasons can you think of that leaders might not choose to delegate authority?

    7 Reasons Some Leaders Dump Delegation

    These could have a lot to do with stalled growth and low team morale.

  • These seven responses can get you on the right track.

    Responding Like Jesus When Your Church Kicks You Out

    It's a pain that many in the ministry have felt at least once and maybe more.

  • A 'What's in it for me?' mentality could bring your church down.

    The Mentality That May Be Killing Your Church

    And we wonder why so many congregations are stagnated, plateaued or declining.

Use Desktop Layout
Ministry Today Magazine — Serving and empowering church leaders