First Amendment rights of pastors at issue
A church-state separation group filed complaints Monday with the Internal Revenue Service against six churches whose pastors either endorsed or made pointed comments about political candidates from their pulpits Sunday in defiance of federal tax law, according to an Associated Press report.
The Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed complaints Monday with the IRS about six pastors whose sermons were detailed in media reports.
This is the press release from the Alliance Defense Fund. Attorneys with the group say they are prepared to defend the First Amendment rights of pastors who engaged in free speech from the pulpit on Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sept. 28.
Here is the list of 31 pastors who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The event is part of the ADF Pulpit Initiative (www.telladf.org/church), a legal effort designed to secure the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit. A document explaining what the Pulpit Initiative is and is not is available at www.telladf.org/UserDocs/WhatIsPI.pdf.
At stake is the tax exempt status accorded to religious institutions.
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas takes another perspective in his article, Pulpit Bullies. Although disagreeing with the ADF, he makes cogent points as he reveals the distinct double standard in application of the law “in some African-American churches” without the pressure by the IRS, which many white conservative churches and institutions feel.” He cites Reverends Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, “as three of many examples.”
Thomas also provides historical background on the law restricting political language from the pulpit. Until 1954, election sermons could be heard on the first Sunday in November, or virtually any other time, without invoking the wrath of government. That changed when then-senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, with his own political motives for doing so, offered an amendment to restrict nonprofit organizations, including churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The amendment passed and has been part of the IRS code ever since.