Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by the Allied Defense Fund is in its fourth year. This year has seen participation up nearly five times as many participants as last year's total of 100 pastors. Pulpit Freedom Sunday is a demonstration, of sorts, and a test of freedom of religion as an IRS law says pastors endorsing political candidates from the pulpit can mean forfeiture of their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Forbes reports:
The 1954 version of the Internal Revenue Code added restrictions on 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches so they couldn’t participate in political campaigns. For many of us who grew up knowing that rule, it seemed to make sense. The tax advantages churches and other charities receive are considerable.
Yet constitutional lawyers and scholars can and do debate whether this limitation on the speech and activities of churches is unconstitutional. The stick the IRS has is considerable, including the threat the tax exemption of churches could be revoked. The IRS does the best it can to fairly enforce the most complex tax system in the world. On the whole, it does a pretty good job.
But the IRS is in a pickle. For as you’ll see in The Political Pulpit, the IRS is criticized if it enforces the rules and if it doesn’t. Perhaps the IRS, the churches and their free-speaking figureheads will find a way to compromise. However, this now annual foray into (more) religion-infused politics (or is that politics-infused religion?) may be more about whose pulpit is bigger.
What the IRS will do about these 475 churches speaking out in violation of their tax code remains to be seen. Clearly, ADF believes that pastors ought to have unbridled freedom of speech from the pulpit. The Dakota Voice adds:
“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Churches should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. No government-recognized status can be conditioned upon the surrender of a constitutionally protected right. That’s why ADF started Pulpit Freedom Sunday: to get the government out of the pulpits of America.”
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the ADF Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. ADF hopes to eventually go to court to have the IRS rule known as the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.
It's a "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" situation for the Internal Revenue Service, that's for sure, God bless em.