WASHINGTON, D.C., October 8, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Vowing to put their alleegiance to the Gospel ahead of their tax-exempt status, more than 1,500 pastors from coast to coast challenged IRS regulations by endorsing candidates from the pulpit on Sunday.

As of this writing 1,586 churches have been recorded taking part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an initiative led by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

The ADF and a large roster of ministers intended to draw the IRS into a constitutional challenge over the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 provision future president Lyndon Baines Johnson pushed through the Senate to silence his political opponents in Texas.

The measure forbids churches from specifically endorsing candidates, although they may speak out on ballot issues. But scholars in the pulpit and the bar believe the measure violates the First Amendment.

“America’s founders would have agreed, a pastor is the one who should determine what he says from the pulpit, not the federal government—and that is as it should be,” said Erik Stanley, who headed the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Pulpit Initiative.

Participating churches ranged from Baptist, Pentecostal, and Church of Christ to Anglican, Lutheran, and United Methodist.

Only 10 institutions appeared to be affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, including St Polycarp Catholic Church of Smyrna, Delaware; Resurrection Catholic Church in Riverview, Florida; St Michael Catholic Church in Greensboro, North Carolina; St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Gallup, New Mexico; and St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Marblehead, Ohio.

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A full list of participating churches is available here.

The churches will voluntarily report their transgression to the IRS and eagerly await their day in court, if one is forthcoming.

The annual event has experienced phenomenal growth since its inception in 2008, when only 33 pastors participated. No more than 539 took part last year.

California megachurch Pastor Jim Garlow said he endorsed Jesus, but he was voting for Mitt Romney. “I don’t think that makes it an endorsement. I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney, but I’m not telling you to.”

Debbie Allen, San Diego chapter president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and a member of Congregation Beth Israel, stated that participating churches must “give up any tax incentives,” which she said would be “an easy thing to do.” 

But the faithful believe engaging the culture on issues the Gospel discusses is vital, as the state continually encroaches on moral territory. Pastor Mark Cowart told the congregation at the Church For All Nations in Colorado Springs, “I encourage you to look at your faith and your politics and your vote and see if they correlate.” 

The limits of the Johnson Amendment had been challenged in the past. James Hammond, pastor of the Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota, endorsed Michele Bachmann during a sermon, provoking a 2009 lawsuit that ended in the rarest of decisions – an IRS courtroom defeat.

Many ministers are uncomfortable explicitly backing a candidate in a church setting. However, even secularists who are opposed to ADF’s efforts seem to believe the law is indefensible. David Sessions, a critic of the ADF movement, wrote, “it’s difficult to make a case that it should stay on the books.”