​In America Free Speech can be expensive. What the Founding Fathers rightly put in the First Amendment – freedom of expression – has changed in its details over the past two hundred odd years. But that doesn’t change the essential and vital necessity of their understanding of freedom of thought and expression contained in those 45 words.

So while media pundits and internet trolls rage over freedom of expression in events like Charlottesville, and while the ACLU flogs itself for defending the rights of white supremacists to march, there is another battle going on in Washington. This one is a little more under the radar, but it is fascinating and reveals the true workings of the separation of powers as envisioned and constructed by the framers of the constitution.

It’s about the Johnson Amendment – named after then Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson who proposed the amendment to the tax code. Essentially what the 1954 ruling does is force certain charitable organizations – including religious ones – to choose:

You can be tax-exempt. OR
You can engage in political speech.

But you can’t do both.

Last May, the president signed The Presidential Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty, which promises to fight for freedom of religious expression. In other words, clergy who promote or criticize political candidates or officials will not have their tax-exempt status removed by the IRS.

But an executive order is not a law, and the Johnson Amendment is. So the DOJ is caught between being asked not to enforce a law that many DOJ officials clearly agree with, and being asked to reveal how and who at the IRS threatened or slowed down the applications for tax-exempt status on the part of conservative organizations and charities. The DOJ is apparently a hotbed of progressive, Obama-appointed wonks, so no surprise that they’re slow-walking the IRS probe.

And taxes are with us through death. So no surprise there either. But think about this:

The IRS controls freedom from taxation. And freedom of political expression, or at least effective political expression. Because to be effective you need to reach people, and that means buying media time. And that is expensive.

Thanks to the Johnson Amendment, among other causes, the IRS controls your freedom of speech. That’s some powerful reach they have. Even more effective than terrorizing taxpayers by breaking down their doors at dawn.

So getting Congress to repeal the Johnson Amendment (unlikely to happen anytime soon unfortunately) isn’t just about allowing clergy to openly express political views and preferences for candidates and policies. It’s about deciding who has to pay for their free speech.

And it’s the progressives ensconced at DOJ that are the gatekeepers of this legislative and philosophical struggle.

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