October 1, 2010

Pastors Defy Federal Tax Law and Endorse Candidates from the Pulpit

About 100 pastors across the country took part in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sept. 26 by endorsing political candidates during their sermons, ABC News reports. The event was organized as part of a protest against a provision in the Internal Revenue Code that bars houses of worship and other tax-exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates or from otherwise intervening in political campaigns. (For a detailed discussion of restrictions on religious organizations’ participation in the political process, go to the Pew Forum’s 2008 report, Politics and the Pulpit.)

Pulpit Freedom Sunday was first organized in 2008 by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian legal group. The group contends that by regulating what pastors may or may not say in a sermon, the government is violating religious leaders’ right to freedom of speech. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Alliance Defense Fund and the pastors who participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday are trying to force the Internal Revenue Service to challenge the pastors’ actions in court, which would open the door for a lawsuit over the constitutionality of existing tax laws.

On Sept. 28, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit group that advocates for maintaining the separation of church and state, filed a complaint with the IRS against Fairview Baptist Church in Edmund, Okla., one of the churches that participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, according to USA Today. The IRS has not yet responded to the complaint.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that 70% of Americans oppose churches and other houses of worship endorsing specific candidates for public office, while 24% support houses of worship making such endorsements. The public is more divided on whether churches should express their views on social and political issues; 43% say they should express their views, while 52% say churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters.

Continue the discussion on twitter or facebook.