Hundreds of Pastors Challenge IRS Restriction on Free Speech

20 Sep

By Fox News

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, 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.”

“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.”

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