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Ben Boychuk

is associate editor of City Journal, where he writes on education and California politics. Previously, he served as managing editor of the Heartland Institute's School Reform News and the Claremont Review of Books. He is also a former editorial writer for Investor's Business Daily and the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. Reach him at

Boychuk writes a weekly column for the Sacramento Bee and Scripps-Howard News Service. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the New York PostNational Review Online, the Korea Times and newspapers across the United States.

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IRS should not counter free speech

By BEN BOYCHUK 

Manhattan Institute’s City Journal
W
ell, of course the IRS should crack down on churches! Everyone knows that churches are supposed maintain a strict separation between what the pastor tells his congregation on Sunday and how the congregants actually live for the rest of the week.

The First Amendment clearly states that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof, except when churches wish to engage in political speech.

The Constitution also enshrines freedom of speech and freedom of the press, except for Baptist preachers, Catholic priests, Episcopal bishops, Muslim imams, Jewish rabbis, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Who could possibly disagree?

In reality, what “everyone” thinks is true … isn’t.

In 2012, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sued the IRS to ensure that the agency was complying with the 1954 Johnson Amendment. That odious little add on to the Internal Revenue Code came about to ensure that its sponsor, then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, cruised to re-election that same year. The law was an easy way to silence Johnson’s organized opposition in Texas.

Before 1954, churches and preachers were free to say anything they wished about candidates, politics and other pressing events of the day. The movement to abolish slavery in the 19th century was as much religious as it was political. Imagine what would have happened to abolitionist preachers in the 1840s and ’50s if the IRS had been around.

Laws born of political corruption naturally lead to abuses of power. It’s a bipartisan affliction.

The IRS under George W. Bush spent two years investigating the very liberal All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., over a 2004 sermon that was critical of the war in Iraq. Although nothing came of the probe, the IRS sent a powerful message: Watch what you say, or we will make your lives hell.

A renewed crusade against conservative churches — really, what else would it be? — would be an affront to the First Amendment. Perhaps it’s time for Congress to repeal Lyndon Johnson’s nasty amendment and leave churches to preach freely. 

Reach Ben Boychuk at .