Paul L. Caron

Sunday, September 26, 2010

100 Pastors to 'Bait' IRS Today on 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday'

USA Today, Pastors Plan to 'Bait' IRS with Pulpit Politics:
On Sunday, a group of 100 preachers nationwide will step into the pulpit and say the only words they're forbidden by law from speaking in a church.

They plan to use the pulpit as a platform for political endorsements, flouting a federal law that threatens churches with the loss of their nonprofit status if they stray too far into partisan politics.

While other church and nonprofit leaders cringe at the deliberate mix of the secular and the religious, participants in the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday protest hope this act of deliberate lawbreaking will lead to a change in the law.

Alliance Defense Fund:

Following up on yesterday's post, Pastors for ObamaCare?:  Everyday Christian, President Obama Calls Pastors To Preach Healthcare:

Earlier this week on a conference call, President Obama and his top healthcare officials charged religious leaders across America with spreading a new kind of gospel – the good news of nationalized healthcare. Isn’t it convenient how the pulpit is barred from promoting political opinion, until it is the opinion of the President?  According to Politico, “Obama instructed faith leaders to treat the new law as settled fact and use their perches of power to convey that message to congregants and friends.” ...

Ironically, or perhaps not, this Sunday September 26 marks the Alliance Defense Fund’s third annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” during which 100 pastors nationwide will exercise their right to free religious expression. Participants will preach sermons related to biblical perspectives on positions of electoral candidates or current government officials. This is despite and in response to an IRS rule that is often used to bully the pulpit into silence.

Preachers spoke freely from the pulpit until 1954 when Congress passed a tax code amendment that prohibits any speech favoring or opposing a political candidate. According to the ADF, ever since the Johnson Amendment was added to the Federal Tax Code, the IRS has increased its guidance of the law – and its vagueness. The IRS now investigates churches for politically-charged discourse, and threatens many with the loss of tax-exemptions. Such surveillance and intimidation has stifled many pastors in fear.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said, “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to apply the teachings of Scripture to specific candidates or elections. As in years past, the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2010 are taking a stand against being intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”

Stanley added, "ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit; we want to get government out of the pulpit.” But “government in the pulpit” seems to be exactly what Obama desires – “government in the pulpit” to censor pastors’ voices, except when they praise the President’s agenda.

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I apologize if this is an ignorant or offensive question, but haven't many black pulpits and preachers been endorsing candidates for decades? Have they lost their tax-exempt statuses? Has this been discussed anywhere in the Christian or secular media? Thanks for any help!

Posted by: Lisa | Sep 27, 2010 7:30:36 PM

More hypocrisy from the left. They want the ability to use religion to push their own agenda, but when conservatives get in on the act, they want to talk separation of church and state. Where was the concern over separation of church and state during the civil rights movement? Where is it now whenever Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (not to mention Hillary and Bill Clinton) visit churches?

If someone ever brings a court case against these people, the religious left should be their first line of defense. Now I oppose this sort of thing, mind you, but on theological grounds, not legal ones.

Posted by: Gerald | Sep 27, 2010 4:39:06 PM

Before you jump on the "yank their status" band wagon, I assume that you want it applied equally to all 501 (c) organizations and not just churches. Perhaps you can explain why a union a 501(c)(5) organization has first amendment rights but a church 501(c)(3) does not. If I don't like the message that SEIU is promoting can I call for their status to be yanked, because I disagree with the message? You subsidize my church's 1st amendment rights and I will subsidize your union's 1st amendment rights.

Posted by: Cheyanna Jaffke | Sep 27, 2010 3:50:43 PM

The question being ignored is whether, if a pastor or other member supports or opposes a candidate for elected office, he or she is being supported by church funds in that act, or is the church is merely providing a public forum in which some individuals happen to express their political views. I support the latter position.

Now if church funds were used to print pamphlets or buy ads on television, supporting a candidate, that would be another matter, and perhaps objectionable by the line of argument that is usually made against tax-exemption or tax-deductibility for the church. On the other hand, perhaps the faith of that church calls for its members to support or oppose certain candidates. Who is to say a church may have beliefs in a deity and not in a candidate or some legislation. That is content-discrimination.

There is a simple solution: Declare the income tax on compensation for labor to be unconstitutional, as it is, and terminate it. Better yet, refund all the taxes collected on wages since they started in 1942. (No, not 1913, which only began taxes on things like rent, interest, dividends, and profits, not on wages.)

Posted by: Jon Roland | Sep 27, 2010 8:53:17 AM

"We should get rid of tax exempt entities. I'm not at all persuaded by the arguments that they offer a greater public good."

I think they do offer a public good, but it also invites corruption and penalizes institutions that follow the rules. Scientology is an extreme example of the extent to which it invites corruption, as it's grown into a monstrous corporation resting on the thinnest excuse for a religion. And there are a ton of plainly partisan 501(c)(3)'s that have a massive advantage either over the ones that pay their taxes or over the ones that restrict their speech. I'm not sure how bad it is in churches, but it really can't be helpful to restrict political speech in what is fundamentally a place where a community gathers to find guidance.

And there's the standard paradox of liberalism: they say they are against big corporations and the establishment, but enforcing these laws through the tax code and campaign regulations always favors big established organizations. It's nothing for an established group to split off a corporate entity that complies with the letter of these regulations, as it's just a few more boxes on an org chart to them. The small businesses and grassroots folks, on the other hand, have to play much more by the spirit of the rules because they don't have the legal and organizational resources.

Posted by: Ben | Sep 27, 2010 4:15:24 AM

I think we need to keep the separation between church and state. If the church wants to get involved in politics I think churches should arrange community meetings outside the church and deliver their message there. In that way they would be keeping the pulpit free of politics and filled with worship.

Posted by: john phillips | Sep 26, 2010 9:01:24 PM

This seems perfectly reasonable: you can say whatever you want but if you want to avail yourself of a huge tax break that exempts literally all entity-level income from the tax system, there are restrictions to make sure it's a legitimate purpose. Anyone who likens this communism is completely out of touch with reality -- period.

Posted by: AJ | Sep 26, 2010 2:33:56 PM

It's really quite simple. Pay your taxes and you can say anything you want.

If they keep their tax break and take political stands, then I deserve a tax deduction for my political contributions, and so does everyone else. If I give to a candidate, a party, or a PAC, I want a deduction. Otherwise we have not made churches, etc. equal, we have made them superior in that their politicing is subsidized by the taxpayers.

There are reasons why these things are set up as they are.

These people are HIGHLY immoral and greedy, imho.

Posted by: Marty | Sep 26, 2010 2:01:38 PM

We should get rid of tax exempt entities. I'm not at all persuaded by the arguments that they offer a greater public good.

A better course would be to simply stop taxing all corporations and fully taxing ALL compensation to employees whether in cash or kind, including all benefits.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 26, 2010 11:55:11 AM

This is way too easy to handle. The churches want to talk about politics? Fine. Then PAY THE TAXES.

How difficult was that?!?

Posted by: Meridian Hutchins | Sep 26, 2010 10:26:17 AM

Great. Yank their tax exempt status. That'll fix part of the budget crisis.

Posted by: HappyTim | Sep 26, 2010 10:19:45 AM

If the religious right wants complete free speech than start paying taxes like the rest of us. It is time we remove the Church's tax free status anyways.

Posted by: Rev Rick White | Sep 26, 2010 10:08:13 AM

Bishop Eddie Long didn't endorse any political candidates in today's sermon.

If damages are awarded in the cases filed against him, will they be taxable?

Posted by: Bob | Sep 26, 2010 9:31:06 AM

The churches can have all the freedom they want to say anything they like. Just give up that big fat tax exemption.

Any takers? Anyone? Buehler?

Thought so. It's all about the money, not the principle.

Oh, and Senator? Their insurance was canceled by a private company that no longer wished to do business with morons, as is their right. Same goes for the bank that no longer wanted to lend them money. Neither of those are first amendment issues, as they don't involve the government.

The police kinda got a point there. Should they be billed for protection they didn't ask for, but was reasonably believed to be necessary? Or is that just part of the police protection our taxes pay for?

In my opinion, it's like the morons who go up mountains without a beacon, and end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in rescue costs. If your negligence causes society to spend money to keep you safe, then you end up being billed.

Posted by: mark | Sep 26, 2010 9:14:42 AM

act like business, pay tax like business
behave like charity, write off charitable activities

Posted by: thor pays taxes | Sep 26, 2010 9:14:30 AM

Not real familiar with the first amendment are you? Im fine with your preachers endorsing candidates as soon as you pay taxes and I am not taxed to cover your churches free ride

Posted by: Sally Sturart | Sep 26, 2010 8:08:37 AM

I hope they get their tax exempt status revoked.

Posted by: anonymous | Sep 26, 2010 8:06:00 AM

You are clearly wrong on two points when you erroneously stated, "Isn’t it convenient how the pulpit is barred from promoting political opinion, until it is the opinion of the President?"

Speaking either for or against issues from the pulpit in no way compromises a church's 501(c)3 status.

And preachers are perfectly free to speak for, or against, any candidate they so desire directly from the pulpit. But in so doing they will rightfully have their 501(c)3 privileges stripped.

Posted by: JeffersonT | Sep 26, 2010 7:41:48 AM

There's no problem in their speaking their minds, they just shouldn't have a tax exemption to do so. Or perhaps, they shouldn't have one, at all.

Posted by: mike livingston | Sep 26, 2010 7:38:08 AM

Laws are for non-Party members, Comrade. Perhaps Kommissar Sebelius can re-educate you.

Posted by: SDN | Sep 26, 2010 6:51:40 AM

It does seem that the public is waking to some of the sprawling power of the government's use of power of taxation to control us in so many ways. I wonder why you haven't posted about the threatened Koran burning minister? I've read they had their insurance canceled, their mortgage called in, the police demanding boojillion dollars to recoup security costs...etc. That seems like pretty strong assaults for threatening to do what everybody says is a First Amendment right.

Posted by: SenatorMark4 | Sep 26, 2010 6:44:38 AM

Most of us realise that mixing religion and politics usually ends in tears...

Posted by: Tile | Sep 26, 2010 6:19:36 AM