Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American pastors plan on challenging the Internal Revenue Service next month, endorsing specific candidates in an attempt to force the courts to decide if politics should be allowed in the pulpit.
Dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," the Oct. 7 event marks the fourth year that churches, led by conservative group Alliance Defending Freedom, have carried out the protest. Pastors attending the event will “preach sermons that will talk about the candidates running for office” and then “make a specific recommendation,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the ADF, said.
"The purpose is to make sure that the pastor -- and not the IRS -- decides what is said from the pulpit,” Stanley told FoxNews.com. “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”
Last year hundreds of pastors participated in the special Sunday event, preaching about American politics and hot-button issues including same-sex marriage and abortion, according to The New York Times. The politically charged sermons were recorded and sent to the IRS to prove the pastors' violations of a 1954 tax code amendment banning such discourse.
The amendment, added to the code by Congress in 1954, placed new restrictions on 501(c)(3) organizations including churches, warning that such charitable organizations could lose their coveted tax-exempt statuses if they intervened in political campaigns, according to the Pew Forum. While the amendment is often interpreted as limiting political advocacy, the rule's purpose has more to do with political contributions. (The tax code applies to all 510(c)(3) organizations, not just places of worship.)
The ADF and similar organizations feel like the rule makes churches choose, however, between participating in political campaigns they feel strongly about and accepting tax-free donations. "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" is a way to goad the IRS into enforcing their restrictions, which could then be challenged in court.
Stanley told FoxNews.com that the IRS does indeed threaten churches with the loss of their tax-exempt statuses but claims the government never acts on the threats in order to avoid a court battle.
Jim Garlow, pastor of California megachurch Skyline Church told Mike Huckabee the amendment constitutes a "muzzle on churches."
"Pastors are rising up" in order to take back their freedom of speech and freedom of religion, Garlow said.
"The law hangs over us like a Damocles sword, in a sense chilling pastors... intimidating pastors," said Garlow, who led preachers in the battle to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.
“The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say,” Garlow told The New York Times in 2011.
In a promotional video created for the event and posted to YouTube, the a narrator connects political speech in churches to some of the biggest movements of our nation's history.
Pastors participating in the Sunday event will be part of a long and storied tradition, according to the video. The tradition is "birthed in the earliest days of America, when pastors used their pulpits to encourage our independence, to speak out against slavery and proclaim their support for the civil rights movement."
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