October 7 is “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”, when the extremist Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom encourages pastors to break the law and defy basic American values.
Each year, they encourage religious leaders to disobey IRS regulation and campaign from the pulpit on behalf of individual candidates–in effect, telling their congregations how to vote. 539 participated last year, facing no repercussion stronger than a letter from the IRS telling them not to do it again.
This is a violation of IRS code, which prohibits political campaigning on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. It’s one of the restrictions that comes with tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
These church leaders think they should be able to have their cake and eat it, too.
The pastors participating in the event plan to preach about the election, endorse a candidate, and send video of their sermon to the IRS.
“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor — and not the IRS — decides what is said from the pulpit,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told FoxNews.com. “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”
The Johnson amendment in Section 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. The IRS has been reluctant to revoke churches’ tax-exempt status for violating the more than 50-year-old IRS rule, but the agency has issued written warnings to dozens of churches.
“The IRS will send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line,” Jim Garlow, a senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, told FoxNews.com. “But when it’s time to go to court, they close the case.”
The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to force the IRS to take churches to court and have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.
Nobody, not the IRS or the government, has in any way restricted a pastor’s free speech. He or she can endorse any candidate desired . . . when speaking as a private citizen, not while in official capacity as a pastor.
Tax exemption is a privilege, not a right. If a pastor wishes to engage in political activity in an official capacity, all that is required is to give up tax exemption.
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