In defiance of a 1954 IRS law regulating political speech from religious leaders, about 1,600 pastors across the country endorsed candidates from the pulpit leading up to this year's presidential election, according to the San Francisco Chronicle
The Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement, organized by an Arizona-based Christian legal group called Alliance Defending Freedom, was designed in support of an alliance court challenge to a section of the IRS tax code regulating political activities on the part of churches and religious groups that are granted tax-exempt status.
The alliance group deliberately urges pastors to "preach a biblically based sermon regarding candidates and the election without fearing that the IRS will investigate or punish the church.” Ultimately, the group wants to see its court challenge go all the way to the Supreme Court.
According to the IRS, religious-affiliated groups that are classified as tax-exempt entities are "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating" in any political campaign or making statements for or against "any candidate for public office."
Citing IRS records, the Chronicle reported that even though the statute has been on the books for 58 years, it has been used only once to revoke a church's exempt status. That was in 1992, when a church in Binghamton, N.Y., took out full-page newspaper ads claiming that then Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton's positions on abortion and homosexuality were against the teachings of the Bible.
Apparently, in an effort to provoke more IRS reactions, the Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement also posted online videos of pastors offering political endorsements during their sermons.
But so far, there has been no response. And that upsets some who support the idea of tougher restrictions on religious groups that enjoy the benefits of tax exemptions.
"Sooner or later, the IRS is going to have to act," Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst with the nonpartisan Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Chronicle. "If they don't, they're telling churches to do what they want. What's to stop churches from acting like PACs and being completely tax-exempt and political? That would be a disaster."
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