Published September 20, 2012
Pastor Jim Garlow from San Diego’s evangelical Skyline Church, left, talks with openly gay church member Dean Hughes. (AP)
Some pastors believe they have a First Amendment right to preach politics. (AP)
More than 1,000 pastors are planning to challenge the IRS next month by deliberately preaching politics ahead of the presidential election despite a federal ban on endorsements from the pulpit.
The defiant move, they hope, will prompt the IRS to enforce a 1954 tax code amendment that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from making political endorsements. Alliance Defending Freedom, which is holding the October summit, said it wants the IRS to press the matter so it can be decided in court. The group believes the law violates the First Amendment by “muzzling” preachers.
“The purpose is to make sure that the pastor — and not the IRS — decides what is said from the pulpit.”
– Erik Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom
“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 FoxNews.com. “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.”
An amendment was made to the IRS tax code in 1954, stating that tax-exempt organizations are “absolutely prohibited 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 this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax,” the IRS says in its online guide for churches and religious organizations seeking tax exemption.
Stanley and others, like San Diego pastor Jim Garlow, say the IRS regularly threatens churches that they will lose their tax-exempt status if they preach politics. But Stanley and Garlow claim the government never acts on the threat because it wants to avoid a court battle.
“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.”
“The IRS will send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line,” added Garlow, a senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego. “But when it’s time to go to court, they close the case.”
A spokeswoman for the IRS did not comment on the matter and instead referred all inquiries to the government’s online handbook.
Garlow and other pastors say their concerns over the code extend well beyond the law.
“I’m very concerned about the spiritual side of this,” Garlow told FoxNews.com. “There’s a phenomenon occurring in America and that’s a loss of religious liberty.”
“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,’” Garlow said. “But If I said that today, people would say ‘Pastor, you’re being too political.”