Pulpit Freedom Sunday vs. IRS: 1,500 Pastors To Challenge Unconstitutional Tax Rule

More than 3,500 pastors in all 50 states and Puerto Rico are supporting Alliance Defending Freedom’s seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Oct. 5. Nearly 1,500 of the registered pastors this year have agreed to preach sermons presenting biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates, and more than 3,500 since 2008 have signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon. Registration, which stays open even after the date of the event, continues to grow according to ADF.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday gives pastors the opportunity to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment, which activist groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.

“Pastors should decide what they preach from the pulpit, not the IRS,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who heads the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event. “Churches should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status. There’s a growing chorus of pastors’ voices calling for a solution to this very real constitutional violation.”

“The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS,” added ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech – afraid to apply the teachings of Scripture to specific candidates or elections. As in years past, the participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday 2014 are taking a stand against being intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment freedoms.”

Pulpit Freedom Sunday, which began in 2008 with 33 participating pastors, is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. ADF hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.

“The IRS cannot condition tax-exempt status on the surrender of a constitutionally protected freedom,” Stanley explained. “Churches don’t have to give up their freedom of speech to remain tax-exempt any more than they have to give up their protection against illegal search and seizure or any other protection in the Bill of Rights.”

A September 2014 Pew Research poll found that the majority of Americans are concerned that religion is losing influence in American life and believe churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues. A national phone survey conducted in 2011 by ADF and LifeWay Research with 1,000 randomly drawn senior pastors, found that nearly nine out of 10 Protestant pastors believe that the government should not regulate their sermons.

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