Posts tagged with: political speech

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, December 4, 2008

In this week’s Acton commentary, I researched and wrote about the danger of speech codes and the limiting of free expression on college campuses. Like many conservatives in an academic atmosphere, I have also lived through the deceit and intimidation of out-of-control ideologues on campus. It has been an issue I have been extremely passionate about since I witnessed and spoke out against administrators trying to squelch free expression while in school myself.

An important reference, and recommended reading for anybody interested in this topic is The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. The authors Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silversgate offer some essential comments:

What remain of the 60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated “progressives” to set everyone else’s moral agenda, and saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.

The authors later add:

The theory of “repressive tolerance,” or, more precisely, its practice of “progressive intolerance,” still governs the extracurricular lives of nearly all of our students. It is easy, however, to identify the vulnerabilities of the bearers of this worst and, at the time, most marginal legacy of the 60s: They loathe the society that they believe should support them generously in their authority over its offspring; they are detached from the values of individual liberty, legal equality, privacy, and the sanctity of conscience toward which Americans essentially are drawn; and, for both those reasons, they cannot bear the light of public scrutiny. Let the sunlight in.

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) offered a write up concerning my piece, and since they are the experts, it was nice to receive a positive endorsement from them. The research and action they have put forth on this issue is nothing short of remarkable.

It was an incident at my alma mater, Ole Miss, which ignited a free speech discussion on campus, that brought my attention back to this important issue. I explained in my commentary:

Just last month at the University of Mississippi, the campus newspaper The Daily Mississippian reported that the University Police interrupted a staged reading of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. It was suggested that the readings be moved to a free speech zone or what the university calls “speakers corners.” An English instructor named Griffith Brownlee replied by reading the First Amendment and saying “The whole country is a free speech zone.” Once the university found out it was a department-sanctioned event they called the whole affair “a misunderstanding.” As Brownlee herself pointed out in the article, one suspects the irony of attempting to limit the words of an author who wrote against totalitarian tactics was lost on some school officials.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Thursday, December 6, 2007

The following is a statement by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, on Mitt Romney’s Dec. 6 “Faith in America” speech:

Mitt Romney is right that religion and morality are core convictions in American society. Our freedom depends on this, I completely agree. Without the ability to manage our lives morally, the state steps into the vacuum, both in response to public demand and to serve the state’s own interests in expanding power.

But soon after spelling this out, in part, he makes this bold claim, which I believe repeats John F. Kennedy’s error: “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.”

So here we have an odd tension. Religion matters, he says. But religious authority does not and should not matter in the management of our public lives. If this proposition had been believed by the kings of Europe in the Middle Ages, freedom would never have been born, for it was precisely the jealousy of religious authority that led to limits on the state and kept that state at bay.

Similarly, it was the churches before and after the American Revolution which said no to the leviathan state, precisely because it had intruded into areas that more properly belong to religious authority. The churches didn’t merely mind their own business; they spoke to the whole of society, and we should be thankful for that.

Maybe we are not accustomed to thinking of religion as a limit on government. But this has largely been so and continues to be so. It was the Catholic Church that beat back communism in Eastern Europe and just last week prevented dictatorship in Venezuela. In our own country, the churches are the main protectors of religious liberty, for they tend to resist intrusion by the state at every level.

The idea of authority is inescapable. If public officeholders are not to obey religious authority, what authority do they submit to? Perhaps we can say the Constitution but the signers of that document too held fast to religious convictions. More likely the authority to which they submit is legislation and its enforcement arm, meaning that to the extent that they brush off their religious institutions, they will tend to become obsequious toward the state.

For my part, I find it strange that American culture should require someone running for president to make a break with his or own religious authority. This strikes me as an attack on the conscience. The right question we should be asking: What does the religious authority teach about the role of the state?

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, March 14, 2006

According to The Church Report, a new resource has been released which offers churches guidelines for keeping their activities and functions within the letter of the law. As non-profit organizations, churches are held to the same standard as registered charities and cannot engage in certain forms of public speech.

A report by The Rutherford Institute, “The Rights of Churches and Political Involvement” (PDF), examines in detail what the restrictions are for churches. There are two main areas: “first, no substantial part of the organization’s activities may consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation; and second, the organization may not participate in political campaigning in opposition to, or on behalf of, any candidate for public office.” For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on the former case rather than the latter, since I take it for granted that churches shouldn’t be institutionally involved in campaigning for a specific candidate. For more on this second aspect of the law, see this post on the use of church directories by political parties, passed on by Joe Carter.

In its summary of the first type of restriction, the report states:

In short, only one reported court decision has found a religious organization in violation of section 501(c)(3) by engaging in “substantial” legislative activities. The IRS, however, refuses to abide by any precise standards, such as a percentage rule, to measure when “substantial” legislative activities have occurred. Hence, a church or religious organization seeking to acquire or maintain a tax-exempt status must be aware that there is always some risk that its attempt to influence legislation will prompt the IRS to pursue an audit and perhaps even revoke its tax-exempt status.

It goes on to say that “one risk adverse approach might be for a church to report pending legislation to church members, without proposing, supporting or opposing any legislation.”

The bottom line seems to be this: “Tax exemptions for churches and religious organizations are a privilege and not a constitutional right. In fact, to acquire and maintain this privilege, churches and religious organizations may have to forsake heretofore protected constitutional rights under the First Amendment.”

This means that if it is something that is germane to the proclamation of the gospel, a church must be willing to lose its tax-exempt status. The government could potentially use tax-free status as leverage to keep churches quiet about political activity. If the pastor and consistory feel that the issue is one of religious imperative, something like a status confessionis, the church must resist the temptation to impose restrictions on its own speech in the interest of maintaining a privileged position.

This clearly calls for prudence and wisdom on the part of the church leadership. I’m not suggesting that churches simply cast off their tax-exempt status on a whim. But when the issue comes down to one of keeping silent over clear moral evils or losing their special status, churches must choose the latter. Their ultimate allegiance must be to Christ and not Caesar.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the context of the enforcement of the Aryan clauses prohibiting pastors of Jewish heritage from ministry in the state churches, writes of the rare instance in which the church must “put a spoke in the wheel itself.” In his essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” he says, “Such action would be direct political action, and is only possible and desirable when the church sees the state fail in its function of creating law and order, i.e. when it sees the state unrestrainedly bring about too much or too little law and order. In both these cases it must see the existence of the state, and with it its own existence, threatened.”

He continues to argue that “there would be too little law if any group of subjects were deprived of their rights, too much where the state intervened in the character of the church and its proclamation, e.g. in the forced exclusion of baptised Jews from our Christian congregations or in the prohibition of our mission to the Jews. Here the Christian church would find itself in statu confessionis and here the state would be in the act of negating itself. A state which includes within itself a terrorised church has lost its most faithful servant.”

One such instance of the state making “too much law” and intervening “in the character of the church and its proclamation” would be the criminalization of certain types of speech as hateful or offensive.