Less than a week before more than 1,000 pastors plan to defy the IRS and preach politics from their pulpits this Sunday, a former Oklahoma lawmaker is reporting that Americans United for Separation for Church and State (AU) has sent a threatening letter to over 60,000 churches warning them not to violate the law.
According to Thomas Peters of The Catholic Vote blog, the letter was reported by Rebecca Hamilton, who served in Oklahoma’s State House of Representatives. It warns pastors that houses of worship and other non-profit entities listed under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue tax code could see their tax exempt status revoked if they openly endorse a particular candidate.
“Any activity designed to influence the outcome of a partisan election can be construed as intervention. If the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention, it can revoke the institutions tax exempt status or levy significant fines on the house of worship or its leaders,” the letter warns.
This letter was mailed after more than 1,000 pastors announced their plan to preach politics from their pulpits on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” which is being held this Sunday. Participants plan to send a recording of their homily to the IRS with the goal of challenging the IRS to take action against them so that the law can finally be brought to court. Even though the 1954 statute is frequently used to threaten churches prior to elections, prosecutions are rare because it probably will not survive a direct constitutional challenge due to the fact that it strips pastors of their right to free speech.
But that doesn’t mean the bullying will stop, Peters reports, and calls the AU’s mass-mailing “a naked attempt to bully churches into being quiet this election. They even offer a section on their website inviting people to ‘Report a Violation’. That’s because they know that religiously active American citizens can be all the difference in critical elections across the country this November,” he writes.
Peters goes on to suggest that the faithful arm themselves with the facts about what churches and pastors are permitted to do and say by visiting the website of the organizers of the October 7 event.
“Catholic priests, parishes, dioceses, etc have every right to inform the consciences of their fellow Catholics. Just because you are a person of faith or a 501c3 non-profit does not mean you must give up your right to free speech,” Peters says.
“Together, speaking as one, we are too many for them to silence!”
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