Action Alert: More than 1,000 pastors plan to challenge IRS by endorsing presidential candidate. Speak out.

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.

RawStory reports:

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 “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 “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.

Given that tax exemption costs the US an estimated $25 billion per year (combined income and property taxes), this isn’t pocket change. This is a very large handout from the US taxpayers to houses of worship, and it’s a handout that local taxpayers have no say in.

It seems the IRS is unwilling to tackle this problem, and prefers to ignore it rather than appear politically motivated. After all, the churches involved in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” are largely promoting Republican candidates.

It’s time the IRS got as serious about enforcing this regulation as they are about other regulations. Here are three things we can all do:

  • Sign the petition. Here’s a petition on urging the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches engaging in electioneering.

  • Submit a complaint. Is a church in your area promoting particular candidates, whether through a speech on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, or a sign on church property, or other means? Get pictures or video if you can. Attend their October 7 service, if possible, and record their endorsements.

    Then complain to the IRS using the convenient fillable Form 13909, located HERE. It’s only one page long (plus one page instructions), and easy to complete. You can mail it, fax it, or email it to the addresses at the bottom of the form.

    Note: The GuideStar database–registration and search is free–can help in finding the Employer Identification Number of a church or other non-profit. If you can’t find it, check for the corporation registration number in your state.

  • Follow up with Americans United for Separation of Church and State by registering the complaint at their Project Fair Play website.

25 Responses to Action Alert: More than 1,000 pastors plan to challenge IRS by endorsing presidential candidate. Speak out.

  1. As Director of non-profit cultural institution I know we can not endorse. We treat everyone the same regardless of religion, color, blood heritage, political affilation or economic status. We would have it no other way. If these religious institutions that have strayed so far from God can spit in the face of the IRS, then I say the IRS should take more action that a pointless letter. Believe you me, there are things I would like to say from my station, but I don’t. I respect and obey the law for the betterment of our community and nation. I expect the Churches to do the same. IRS – DO YOUR JOB!

  2. How many more times will the clergy ignore that the founding fathers were clear in the expression of the importance of the separation of church and state! The church(any individual religion)is inherently biased and unable to act in the best interest of any or all Americans.

    • I think it will backfire, too. But the longer the IRS waits to act, the greater the possibility the courts will say that their failure to act was tacit approval of the lawless behavior.

  3. Maybe this is the way to get more tax revenue. Trick the churches into giving up their tax free status and maybe the rich will get to keep their tax cuts.

  4. Just a question for you … when candidate Obama went and spoke at a predominantly black church, wasn’t that the pastor/church implicitly endorsing him? The black church I’m thinking of never has a Republican/conservative candidate come and speak … ? What’s different? Also, to “Nancy” above – you are a wonderful example of liberals – “trick” someone into doing something. Or lie. Or whatever it takes, right? The ends justify the means to liberals, eh?

    • If the church invited him to come speak as a candidate, and did not make the same offer to Mitt Romney (or John McCain, if it was in 2008), then they have violated the regulation and should have their tax exemption pulled. Note that Romney (or McCain) would not have had to come, just be given the same opportunity. If the church invited him to come speak on issues (for example, maybe he was talking about “faith-based and neighborhood initiatives”), and not campaigning for office, the church is on solid legal ground. So, without knowing the content of Obama’s in-church speech, it’s not really possible to know for sure if there was a violation.

    • Angela, my meaning was that neither is likely to happen. If you want to know my personal opinion the truth is what I strive for. The end never justifies the means unless the means are just.

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