Main | Monday, September 28, 2009

80 Pastors Challenge IRS On Political Speech Rules

Wing Nut Daily is reporting that more than 80 pastors took part in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" yesterday, a campaign launched by the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund to "preach Sunday sermons related to biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates or current government officials." That is in violation of IRS rules regarding tax-exempt churches and political speech.
"Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights," ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley explained. "ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit. On the contrary, the whole point is that churches should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church's tax-exempt status. We need the government to get out of the pulpit," he said.

The censorship for church pastors has been in place since the Johnson Amendment was added to the Federal Tax Code in 1954. However, enforcement has been spotty and the results have been vague, even though critics of Christian churches contend it limits what they can say from the pulpit. The IRS has repeatedly launched investigations of churches based on allegations from organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, whose officials have taken advantage of the vagueness to report church "offenses." Stanley explained that, contrary to the misunderstandings of many, tax-exempt status is not a "gift" or "subsidy" from the government.

"Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954," explained Stanley. "The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS. Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to be critical of blatant immorality in government and foregoing opportunities to praise moral government leaders. The participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refuse to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights." The Pulpit Initiative is a strategic litigation plan which, through lawsuits, is intended to restore the right of every pastor to speak scriptural truth from the pulpit about moral, social and government issues.
If the IRS lets this demonstration slide, expect Christian churches to grow even bolder in their campaigns of hatred and bigotry against LGBT people. If that's possible.

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