You are here: HomeCultureFaith and MoralsPastors Prepare to Defy IRS With “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”
Wednesday, 26 September 2012 11:17

Pastors Prepare to Defy IRS With “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”

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A small army of pastors across America is planning to defy the IRS rules against politics in the pulpit by participating in what they are calling “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” October 7. The event, which is being organized by Alliance Defending Freedom, will target the 1954 IRS statute, called the Johnson Amendment, that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from endorsing candidates for office. “The purpose is to make sure that the pastor, and not the IRS, decides what is said from the pulpit,” said Erik Stanley, an ADF spokesman. “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”

On that Sunday participating pastors will use their pulpits to preach sermons focused on a specific candidate, encouraging parishioners to show their support for that candidate at the polls. The sermons will be recorded and sent to the IRS. “We’re hoping the IRS will respond by doing what they have threatened,” Stanley told Fox News. “We have to wait for it to be applied to a particular church or pastor so that we can challenge it in court. We don’t think it’s going to take long for a judge to strike this down as unconstitutional.”

Participating clergy said the issue is more about the First Amendment than it is about the candidates they are endorsing. “Pastors are rising up,” said the Rev. Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego, California. “The law hangs over us like a Damocles sword … intimidating pastors.” Garlow told the New York Times that the “freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say."

In 1954, the IRS amended the tax code to mandate that churches and other tax-exempt groups are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of [or opposing] any candidate for elective public office.” IRS guidelines for churches specify that violation of the code “may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.”

Stanley pointed out that while the IRS regularly threatens churches for supposed violation, it seldom follows through with prosecution because IRS bureaucrats are concerned about the legal challenge that would almost certainly result. “It is blatantly unconstitutional,” Stanley told Fox News. “They just prefer to put out these vague statements and regulations and enforce it through a system of intimidation.… Pastors are afraid to address anything political from the pulpit.”

Garlow noted that the IRS will “send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line. But when it’s time to go to court, they close the case.” He said that he is participating because, like other clergy and religious leaders in America, he is concerned about the direction the nation is heading relative to taking a stand for faith and morality. “If I would have said 50 years ago that tearing up a baby in the womb is a bad thing, people would have said, ‘Of course it is,’” Garlow told Fox News. “But If I said that today, people would say ‘Pastor, you’re being too political.'”

The ADF, which initiated “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in 2008, explained that the goal of the event is to have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional, and to “remove the ability of the IRS to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit.” The group said that it is actively seeking to represent churches or pastors who are under investigation by the IRS for violating of the amendment “by preaching biblical truth in a way that expresses support for — or opposition to — political candidates.”

The group added that “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is not about using churches to push a political position, but rather is meant to defend the “right of pastors to speak freely from their pulpits about all matters included in Scripture — even when Scripture is deeply relevant to a pending election or the quality of a candidate for office.”

In 2008, 33 pastors in 22 states participated in the first “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” according to the ADF. The next year that number increased to 80 pastors, and by last year had risen to nearly 600. Participating clergy “preached sermons that compared the positions held by candidates with what Scripture says about those issues,” the ADF explained of the campaign. “The pastors then made specific recommendations about those candidates (including recommendations about whether the congregation should vote for or against them). Finally, the pastors brought their sermons to the attention of the IRS in the hopes that an audit of their churches would spark lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment.”

Thus far, noted the ADF, “none of the participating churches have had their tax exemption revoked, nor have any received penalties from the IRS for what was said during their sermons.”

9 comments

  • Comment Link Earl Wallace Sunday, 07 October 2012 14:56 posted by Earl Wallace

    No Founding Father would have expected anyone to give up his 1st Amendment Rights to be a preacher.  Thus in Amendment One they wrapped freedom of religion, and the freedom to speak about religion, and the freedom to publish in the press about religion and the expectation that "we the people" would "redress" government when it strayed from the 10 Commandments and the tenets of religion.  http://bit.ly/wZtfmq 

    Too many believers mistakenly elevate caring for the poor as the highest spiritual value, so they vote for any politician who claims he or she will do that. Jesus indicated that “preaching the Gospel to the poor,” which leads to righteousness (and overcoming many of the problems associated with poverty) is the greatest spiritual work regarding the poor. bit.ly/PolProvPoor

  • Comment Link voiceofthenameless Thursday, 27 September 2012 09:48 posted by voiceofthenameless

    (continued) but if the latter is the backing for your arguement, then should the law also be extended to CEO's who use their position to influence favor for a particular party? Or once again, is it only those who pay taxes that have freedom of speech???

  • Comment Link voiceofthenameless Thursday, 27 September 2012 09:45 posted by voiceofthenameless

    R Jensen I don't understand your arguement. "501(c)(3) — Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations" is the proper IRS classifcation for a church. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that First Amendment rights only apply to organizations that pay taxes. Freedom of speech is the political right to communicate one's opinions and ideas. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, as with libel, slander, obscenity, sedition (including, for example inciting ethnic hatred), copyright violation, revelation of information that is classified or otherwise restrained under gag agreement, and incitement to commit a crime. A gag clause is often used as part of an employment contract as a way for an employer to protect special and/or proprietary corporate information, trade secrets, and confidential employee information.

    Pastors are not paid by the Government, and are not Government employees, so therefore I don't see the revelants of using one's position as a spiritual leader to attempt to enfluence favor for a particular canidate.

  • Comment Link R Jensen Wednesday, 26 September 2012 19:04 posted by R Jensen

    What I don't understand, is most of these churches registered themselves voluntarily as 501c3 corporations (as about 99% do). Therefore they are subject to the IRS. So why shouldn't the IRS censor what they say? First remove the 501c3 corporate status. Then you can speak the truth. Come out of her my people. You cannot serve two masters.

  • Comment Link Tionico Wednesday, 26 September 2012 18:30 posted by Tionico

    Back in pre-revolutionary war times, the pastors and ministers comprised what is referred to as "the Black Regiment". It was they who, more than any other group, preached God's Word showing how the tyranny and lawlessness of the Crown needed dealt with. Sometimes a minister would mount the pulpit, preach his sermon, then step down, removing his robes and revealing his militia uniform, and marching off to the front. The local minister very often was a militia member, and it was not unusual for him to also have been elected the militia captain. That was in a time when one's faith dictated all aspects of one's life. Anything less would constitute hypocrisy. Tirades against King George or any of his underlings tormenting the Colonials were common... and most often biblically based.

    We surely have fallen a long ways from those times, and the emasculation and muting of our ministers is only one aspect of it. Moral corruption has been allowed, even encouraged, for too many generations. Until we again embrace a right theology, which will necessarily include a vibrant and effective teaching ministry from our pulpits, we will not turn things round again. I am SO glad to see these men thumbing their noses at the IRS and doung what God requires of them. these men answer to God on behalf of their flocks, not to the IRS or any other segment of our national or state government. :..or preventing the free exercise thereof" was written into the First Ammendment for good cause... George's minions worked hard at silencing the voices of colonial pulpits, and the founders determined that this should not be. The federal government have been doing likewise for generations now... time they were the ones silenced. What, have they something to fear?

  • Comment Link Connie Guest Wednesday, 26 September 2012 18:00 posted by Connie Guest

    What preachers do in their own church buildings is their own business...

  • Comment Link Patrick McIntyre Wednesday, 26 September 2012 17:38 posted by Patrick McIntyre

    I guess the web link I gave was not enough because it did not have the http://.

    The link to the Black Pastor's telliing their parishioners to stay home is at http://www.1asunday.com.

  • Comment Link Patrick McIntyre Wednesday, 26 September 2012 17:34 posted by Patrick McIntyre

    Some Black Pastors (enough to make Democrat activists nervous) are telling their flocks to stay home on election day because of the President's gay marriage stand. The logical connection to Pulpit Freedom Day is discussed at http://www.1asunday.com. If the Sleeping Giant ever wakes up and makes every Sunday leading up to the election "First Amendment Sunday", Romney would win in a landslide.

  • Comment Link tookson Wednesday, 26 September 2012 11:26 posted by tookson

    Socialists don't believe in free speech--never have, never will. Christians cannot ask ungodly politicians for permission to speak the Truth. We have a higher authority to appeal to.

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