Republican Congressman Introduces Bill to Restore Freedom of Speech to Churches

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - A Republican congressman has joined with African-American clergy and other members of Congress to demand that the House and Senate restore free speech to houses of worship.

North Carolina Rep. Walter B. Jones joined with Reps. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) Thursday to drum up support for Jones' bill, the Houses of Worship Freedom of Speech Restoration Act (HR 235).

"There is a muzzle upon the clergy. As ministers, we are obligated to speak about the moral and political issues of the day, and taking away that right is harassment. It is wrong, and it is extortion," said Clergy United leader Bishop Anthony Muse, who called on the Congressional Black Caucus to back Jones' bill and to push for its passage.

"To the black Caucus, we need you here. This is our time to speak out. We need the entire religious community to come together now - black and white, people of all faiths - and say, 'this is our right, this is our time,'" Muse added.

"I truly believe there is no future for America unless our preachers are allowed to speak freely about what God puts into their hearts and minds," said Jones. "There would have been no civil rights movement without ministers speaking out for freedom, and we must give that right back to our great ministers like those here today with me."

"This is a fight we must not give up because it is about saving morality for the future of this great country," Jones added.

Pastor Carlton Preston, who joined Jones and 50 other ministers with Clergy United, invoked the late President Ronald Reagan's famous Brandenberg Gate speech. "As Reagan said, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,' I say today tear down this religious wall and let our preachers speak their minds," said Preston.

Cantor, who is chief deputy majority whip, referenced the unintended change in the tax code that resulted in the suppression of speech. An amendment by former President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1954 changed the tax code thereafter putting churches at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if their ministers spoke out about the moral and political issues of the day.

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