More than a thousand pastors have resolved to defy the IRS and preach politics from the pulpit before the election.

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Good for them: More than a thousand pastors have resolved to defy the IRS and preach politics from the pulpit before the election.

“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.” Stanley said pastors attending the Oct. 7 “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation.” 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.”

First of all, the IRS has always enforced this oppressive regulation very selectively. Black churches for example have been allowed to preach Democratic Party politics for decades, without any threats from the IRS.

Second, the regulation really does make no sense. What right does the IRS have deny these religious leaders the freedom to participate in the political debate? Free speech is free speech. To threaten their tax status just because they express their opinions for or against a candidate seems quite oppressive, the kind of thing petty dictators do when they want to shut their opponents up.

In fact, when you think about it, the regulation’s basic consequence was to shut these religious leaders up. Much like the “equal time” regulation that was used for decades to shut up conservative thought on the radio and television airwaves, this IRS regulation has effectively banned religion from the political process. Our Constitution might forbid Congress from setting up an official religion, but it does not forbid people of religion from using their moral teachings to try to influence elections. As I say, free speech is free speech. They are citizens like everyone else, and have the right to express their ideas and to try to persuade people. And in a free society, no one is obliged to listen to them or be convinced by them,



  • Jim

    This is what the IRS regulation says about tax exemptions for “organizations:”
    “In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”

    So leaving aside whether or not it selectively enforces this rule (it should not be selective- I myself sat through a sermon on climate change that quickly became legislative endorsement), it certainly is clear that the expectation is to stay away from political endorsement. But I think it would be wise to consider what would happen in the alternative. Being tax exempt is not a constitutional requirement…they could be taxed. It is estimated that 1.8M churches are exempt from taxes, and that includes the added exemption from any other paperwork that secular charities must provide to receive tax relief. Even Chuck Grassley (Republican) says it is rife with phony “churches.”

    So if we eliminate the prohibition, how quickly do you think the vacuum will be filled by all kinds of political interests declaring themselves “churches?” Even further, maybe marketing organizations will do the same to endorse products. There would be no end to what is “free speech.”

    I would prefer to enforce the rule more diligently all across the board than to open this up even further.

  • The solution is to get rid of the IRS altogether. I’d go with the Fair Tax which would have the consequence of not interfering with free speech.

  • wodun

    I’m not fond of politics at the pulpit, it isn’t something to encourage more of.

  • You might not like it, but it ain’t any of our business to try to stop it. Freedom means they have the freedom to do it, whether you like it or not. And freedom also means the government has no say in the matter as well.

  • wodun

    I can agree with that but if politics were being preached at me, I would change churches and I think a lot of people with a old school protestant upbringing would do the same.

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