Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Freedom of the Pulpit

On his program yesterday, Glenn Beck encouraged ministers and pastors across the country to break the 1954 IRS law that forbids the clergy and charitable, non-profit organizations to endorse candidates for office.  He called upon them to defend their pulpits this Sunday, and not be intimidated by the threat of losing their tax-exempt status by speaking about political issues of doctrinal import to their congregations.

The threat to freedom of religion, or conscience, as the early Americans deemed it, goes all the way back to 1798 and the Alien and Seditions acts, passed by the Federalist of the 5th U.S. Congress and signed into law by Pres. John Adams.  The acts were four bills passed in the aftermath of the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror.  America was engaged in an undeclared naval war with France, sometimes called “The Quasi-War.”

The Democratic-Republicans were up in arms because France had supported American during her Revolution and felt that America owed France a favor.  George Washington disagreed and so did James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.  Some of the Democratic-Republicans even wanted to see a democratic, French style revolution, a popular uprising to overthrow the Federals.  Democratic Republicans in some states refused to enforce the federal laws and even threatened rebellion.  The Federalists, in turn, threatened to send in the armed forces.  Europe was in shambles and calls for secession echoed through the United States.

The Federalists, believing the trouble had been started by the French and a certain French minister by the name of Edmond Charles Genet in particular, sought to use the acts to guard against the real threat of anarchy.  Democratic-Republicans denounced them as being both unconstitutional and designed to stifle criticism of the administration, and as infringing on the right of the states to act in these areas, though they also used them after the 1800 election against Federalists.

The acts became a major political issue in the elections of 1798 and 1800.  Opposition to them resulted in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,  The Resolutions were political statements drafted in 1798 and 1799, in which the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures took the position that the federal Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional.  The Resolutions argued that the states had the right and the duty to declare unconstitutional any acts of Congress that were not authorized by the Constitution.  In doing so, they argued for states' rights and strict constructionism of the Constitution.

Four separate laws constituted what is commonly referred to as the “Alien and Sedition Acts”
  1. The Naturalization Act (officially an act supplementary to, and to amend the act to establish a uniform rule of naturalization; and to repeal the act heretofore passed on that subject) repealed and replaced the Naturalization Act of 1795 to extend the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens of the United States from five years to fourteen years.
  2. The Alien Act (officially An Act Concerning Aliens) authorized the president to deport any resident alien considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” It was activated June 25, 1798, with a two year expiration date.
  3. The Alien Enemies Act (officially An Act Respecting Alien Enemies) authorized the president to apprehend and deport resident aliens if their home countries were at war with the United States of America. Enacted July 6, 1798, and providing no sunset provision, the act remains intact today.  At the time, war was considered likely between the U.S. and France.
  4. The Sedition Act (officially An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States) made it a crime to publish “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government or its officials.  It was enacted July 14, 1798, with an expiration date of March 3, 1801 (the day before Adams' presidential term was to end).
The fourth act stirred up considerable trouble and caused a constitutional crisis.  Jefferson and Madison argued that for the government to accuse a citizen of seditious libel, the government would set itself up as prosecution, investigator, judge, jury, and jailor.  Common laws, they said, already provided for the prosecution of criminal lies and falsehoods.  If an injured party was innocent, the lies would be exposed.  A government given the ability to cover-up and even punish someone telling the truth, they asserted, was nothing short of monstrous.

Protected within the First Amendment – which the Federalists held to be unnecessary – was the right of religious freedom.  Jefferson and Madison worried that if writers, printers, or simply anyone who expressed contempt for public officials (someone insulted the newly-inaugurated Pres. Adams and was promptly sent to jail) could be punished that the clergy would suffer even more for speaking their spiritual consciences.

Numerous writers inveighed publicly against the Sedition Act, including James Madison.  In the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, Madison, as chairman of the statement committee appointed to draft the Resolutions, urged the other states to help bring about a repeal of the legislation.  He enumerated not only the dangers to good government, to free elections (in which adversaries of those in office could be punished for criticizing their opponents), to the courts, and to the citizens, but also to the clergy and their congregations.

In his book, Freedom of the Press from Zenger to Jefferson, Leonard W. Levy published excerpts from Madison’s Virginia Resolutions:

“It is with justice, therefore, that the General Assembly have affirmed in the resolution, as well that the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and free communication thereon, is the only effectual guardian of every other right, as that this particular right is levelled at, b the power exercised in the ‘sedition act.’

“The next resolution in order is as follows:

“That this state having by its convention, which ratified the federal Constitution, expressly declared that among other essential rights, ‘the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States,’ and from its extreme anxiety to guard these rights from every possible attack of sophistry and ambition, having, with other states, recommended an amendment for that purpose, which amendment was, in due time, annexed to the Constitution, it would mark a reproachful inconsistency, and criminal degeneracy, if an indifference were now show to the most palpable violation of one of the rights thus declared and secured; and the establishment of a precedent, which may be fatal to the other.’

“To place this resolution in its just light, it will be necessary to recur to that act of ratification by Virginia, which stands in the ensuing form:

“’We, the delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the federal convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us to decide thereon, do, in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that the people of the United states, may be resumed by them, whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression; and that every power not granted thereby, remains with them, and at their will.  That, therefore, no right of any denomination can be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate, or House of Representatives, acting in any capacity, by the President, or by any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes; and that, among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press, cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified, by any authority of the United States.”

“Words could not well express, in a fuller or more forcible manner, the understanding of the convention of the state, that they ratified the Constitution in the sense, that the liberty of conscience and the freedom of the press, were equally and completely exempted from all authority whatever of the United States.

“Under an anxiety to guard more effectually these rights against every possible danger, the convention, after ratifying the Constitution, proceeded to prefix to certain amendments proposed by them, a declaration of rights, the one for the liberty of conscience, the other for the freedom of speech and of the press.

“Similar recommendations having proceeded from a number of other states, and Congress, as has been seen, having in consequence thereof, and with a view to extend the ground of public confidence, proposed, among other declaratory and restrictive clauses, a clause expressly securing the liberty of conscience and of the press; and Virginia having concurred in the ratifications which made them part of the Constitution, it will remain with a candid public to decide, whether it would not mark an inconsistency and degeneracy, if an indifference were now shown to a palpable violation of one of those rights, the freedom of the press; and to a precedent therein, which may be fatal to the other, the free exercise of religion.

Madison went on to write, “Both of these rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press, rest equally on the original ground of not being delegated by the Constitution, and consequently withheld from the government.  Any construction, therefore, that would attack this original security for the one, must have the like effect on the other.

“They are both equally secured by the supplement to the Constitution; being both included in the same amendment, made at the same time, and by the same authority.  Any construction or argument, then, which would turn the amendment into a grant or acknowledgment of power with respect to the press, might be equally applied to the freedom of religion.

“If it be admitted that the extent of freedom of the press, secured by the amendment, is to be measured by the common law on this subject, the same authority may be resorted to, for the standard which is to fix the extent of the ‘free exercise of religion.’  It cannot be necessary to say what this standard would be; whether the common law be taken solely as the unwritten, or as varied by the written law of England.

“If the words and phrases in the amendment, are to be considered as chosen with a studied discrimination, which yields an argument for a power over the press, under the limitation that its freedom be not abridged, the same argument results from the same consideration, for a power over the exercise of religion, under the limitation that its freedom be not prohibited.

“For, if Congress may regulate the freedom of the press, provided they do not abridge it, because it is said only ‘they shall not abridge it,’ and is not said, ‘they shall make no law respecting it,’ the analogy of reasoning is conclusive, that Congress may regulate and even abridge the free exercise of religion, provided they do not prohibit it, because it is said only ‘they shall not prohibit it,’ and is not said, ‘they shall make no law respecting, or no law abridging it.

Finally, Madison wrote, “The General Assembly were governed by the clearest reason, then, in considering the ‘sedition act,’ which legislates on the freedom of the press, as establishing a precedent that may be fatal to the liberty of conscience; and it will be the duty of all, in proportion as they value the security of the latter, to take the alarm at every encroachment on the former…”

With all his Congressional eggs in one basket, Johnson was able to pass this IRS bill through a Democrat, and evidently veto-proof, Congress.  The bill laid the clergy and charitable organizations under a mighty burden which reverberates even today.  The latest news is that some lesbian signer, making out with her girlfriend on a passenger jet, was removed from the plane.  A charitable organization, which had a deal with major retailers to donate proceeds to a charity of the customer’s choice, is under boycott for supporting religious charities that oppose homosexuality.  The Tea Parties (whether or not you like their signs) are under a ban not to endorse any candidate or even platform.  They must declare in their mission statements that they are “non-partisan” associations.

Not only have the clergy been under this ban for over 50 years, but the government scruples not to tell them what they can and can’t do if they want to retain their tax-exempt status.  The gay marriage bill was passed with the understanding that clergy will not be forced to perform what they consider an unholy sacrament – homosexual marriage.  However, this promise will not long stand the scrutiny of either the IRS or the Supreme Court.

The clergy must defy this unconstitutional ban and their congregations must support them.  The more secularly-oriented must urge their legislators to repeal this bill (along with many others).   Abridge, regulate, control, and ban freedom of speech, the press, and the conscience, and there is no freedom at all.

Always remember - a tax is a punishment, a curb, the government's favorite non-violent tool.

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