Pastors Gear Up to Challenge Tax-Exempt Regulations on Pulpit Freedom Sunday

Fri Sep 24, 2010 - 12:15 pm EST

LEAWOOD, Kansas, September 24, 2010 ( — One hundred pastors nationwide will be participating in the Alliance Defense Fund’s third annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on September 26, braving potential challenges to their tax-exempt status by educating their congregations about the candidates in this upcoming election in the light of their Christian faith.

The pastors say they are exercising their constitutional right to free religious expression, despite a problematic Internal Revenue Service rule often invoked by activist groups looking to silence churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the ADF Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit. 
“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government—in this case, the IRS,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit; we want to get government out of the pulpit.”

“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,” Stanley added.

In the past, pastors could speak freely from the pulpit, even about specific candidates and elections, without worrying about tax exemptions. However that changed in 1954, when Congress passed a tax code amendment proposed by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson that prohibits any speech favoring or opposing a political candidate by tax-exempt institutions.

Since the addition of the Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code, the ADF says the IRS has issued increasingly vague guidance on the law but has continued to launch investigations while avoiding court review of the constitutionality of its actions.

ADF says groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken advantage of the tax law to report churches to the IRS in a bid to get churches’ tax-exempt status revoked. The most recent example involves a South Dakota church that AU reported to the IRS in June.

“The IRS should not be used as a political tool to advance the agenda of radical groups bent on silencing the voice of the Church and inhibiting religious freedom,” Stanley explained.  “It is ironic that a group with a name like ‘Americans United for Separation of Church and State’ continues to exploit a scheme of massive government monitoring and surveillance of churches.”

“The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS,” he added. “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to apply the teachings of Scripture to specific candidates or elections.

“As in years past, the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2010 are taking a stand against being intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”

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