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Supreme Court of the United States

Defending Churches: ADF Challenges Government Assaults on Religious Freedom

By Alan Sears posted on:
October 17, 2017

I recently wrote to invite you to enlist your pastor to participate in our seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, October 5, and your response has been phenomenal. More than 1,800 pastors from all 50 states plus Puerto Rico have participated so far. (Registration and participation are open through Election Day, November 4 – so if your pastor has not yet joined in, please encourage him to do so.)

The event gives pastors the opportunity to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment, which anti-religious groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.

The great majority of those participating preached sermons relating biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates. They also signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon. Hundreds more who didn’t speak from the pulpit on these issues still opted to sign the statement – bringing the total number of pastors in support of pulpit freedom to more than 3,800 since 2008.

The timing of this growing awareness and activism couldn’t be more crucial, as church leaders all over America are facing the challenges of a political, cultural, and legal climate increasingly hostile to people of faith. Just last week, for example, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys joined our allies at the Life Legal Defense Foundation in filing a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of seven California churches targeted by their state officials.

The Department of Managed Health Care is trying to force all employers, including churches, to pay for elective abortions in their health insurance plans. The seven churches ADF is co-representing object to that coercion, which they rightly regard as a violation of federal law. We sent a letter to the DMHC itself, detailing those violations; the department responded by affirming its decision to force all plans to cover all abortions, despite federal law.

“Forcing a church to be party to elective abortion is one of the utmost imaginable assaults on our most fundamental American freedoms,” said ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox. “California is flagrantly violating the federal law that protects employers from being forced into having abortion in their health insurance plans. No state can blatantly ignore federal law and think that it should continue to receive taxpayer money.”

Last week also saw the filing of our opening brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, in which ADF attorneys are defending an Arizona church against government speech discrimination. The high court agreed in July to hear the case in the wake of a 2-1 U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit decision that allows local governments to impose stricter regulations on temporary church signs than other temporary, non-commercial signs.

Many friend-of-the-court briefs have already been filed in this case, supporting our church client and opposing the government’s discrimination. That support is coming from an unusually broad spectrum of the legal community, including several state attorneys general, religious liberty groups, Christian denominations, prominent law professors, and even some federal officials.

“No law should treat the speech of churches worse than the speech of other similar speakers,” said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman. “As the briefs filed this week indicate, the Supreme Court’s decision may have broad implications for free speech beyond the facts of this situation alone. We appreciate all those who filed briefs in this case that side with constitutionally protected freedoms rather than selective treatment of speech by government.”

Thank you for the amazing grace of God that you make so tangible with your gifts and prayers and encouragement. Please be in prayer for our attorneys and our allies as we defend these churches, and the religious freedom of all Americans – including your family. And please be in special prayer for our nation’s pastors, that they will continue to find new courage to stand up and speak out for the truth of the Gospel.

Alan Sears

Alan Sears


Alan Sears served as founder of Alliance Defending Freedom, building on his experience as longtime leader of the organization to strengthen alliances, forge new relationships, and develop ADF resources.

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