More than 1,000 pastors will take part in a national campaign to challenge the IRS’ 1954 tax code rule that prohibits tax exempt organizations from making political endorsements in order to force the rule into court where it can be overturned as a violation of the First Amendment.
Fox News is reporting that the campaign, led by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), will be held next month in order to force the IRS to take action against pastors who preach politics from the pulpit. When they do, the ADF will be waiting to counter sue and prove in court that the law violates the rights of pastors by “muzzling” their right to free speech.
“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor — and not the IRS — decides what is said from the pulpit,” said Erik Stanley, ADF senior legal counsel, to Fox. “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”
Pastors who will participate in the Oct. 7 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation,” Stanley said. The sermons will be recorded and sent to the IRS.
“We’re hoping the IRS will respond by doing what they have threatened,” he said. “We have to wait for it to be applied to a particular church or pastor so that we can challenge it in court. We don’t think it’s going to take long for a judge to strike this down as unconstitutional.”
The IRS tax code was amended in 1954 to prohibit tax-exempt organizations such as churches from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Violation of the prohibition “may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax,” the code says.
However, while the IRS uses this code to regularly threaten churches against endorsing specific candidates from the pulpit, they never enforce it because they know the law will never stand up in court.
“It is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Stanley. “They just prefer to put out these vague statements and regulations and enforce it through a system of intimidation … Pastors are afraid to address anything political from the pulpit.”
San Diego pastor Jim Garlow, who is participating in the event, told Fox that he’s also concerned about the spiritual side of this rule.
“There’s a phenomenon occurring in America and that’s a loss of religious liberty,” he said. “If I would have said 50 years that ‘Tearing up a baby in the womb is a bad thing,’ people would have said ‘Of course it is. But If I said that today, people would say ‘Pastor, you’re being too political’.”
The IRS refused to comment for this story.
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