More than 1,000 pastors will challenge the IRS on October 7 by preaching sermons that present biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates.
In so doing, they will exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment that activist groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.
Groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken advantage of the vagueness of the tax law and have reported churches to the IRS in an attempt to remove their tax-exempt status. The organization has also sent threatening letters to church warning them not to allow election literature from pro-life groups to be distributed on their property.
The pastors are participating in Alliance Defending Freedom’s fifth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday and the figure of 1,000 pastors doubles doubling last year’s participation. Registration continues until October 7, so the number continues to rise.
“Pastors should decide what they preach from the pulpit, not the IRS,” said Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley of ADF. “It’s outrageous for pastors and churches to be threatened or punished by the government for applying biblical teachings to all areas of life, including candidates and elections. The question is, ‘Who should decide the content of sermons: pastors or the IRS?’”
“No government-recognized status can be conditioned upon the surrender of a constitutionally protected right,” Stanley explained. “No one would suggest a pastor give up his church’s tax-exempt status if he wants to keep his constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure or cruel and unusual punishment. Likewise, no one should be asking him to give up his church’s tax-exempt status to be able to keep his constitutionally protected right to free speech.”
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.
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Pulpit Freedom Sunday began in 2008 with 33 participating pastors. Participation increased each year, with last year’s participation blossoming to 539. This year’s registered participation is currently 1,050 and growing.
A national phone survey conducted by Alliance Defending Freedom and LifeWay Research with 1,000 randomly drawn senior pastors prior to last year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday found that nearly nine out of 10 Protestant pastors believe that the government should not regulate their sermons. http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/5076
Pastor Luke Emrich of New Life Church in West Bend, Wisconsin participated in 2008 and told his congregation on Sunday that he supported McCain as did Rev. Ron Johnson Jr., the senior associate pastor at Living Stones Church in Crown Point, Indiana.
“If a candidate supports something that is evil and wicked from a biblical perspective,” Johnson said, “then I have the right to call out the wickedness, and I have the right to say this is what this person stands for — this is wrong.”
The Rev. Jody Hice of Bethlehem First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta also endorsed McCain in 2008 and said he based his recommendations on McCain’s opposition to abortion compared to Obama’s strongly pro-abortion position.
“These are not political issues,” Hice said. “There are moral issues.”