Pastors ready for second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 27

More than 80 pastors to preach sermons involving biblical perspectives on electoral candidates or officeholders despite IRS rule muzzling speech in the pulpit
Thursday, September 24, 2009

LEAWOOD, Kan. — More than 80 pastors nationwide will be participating in the Alliance Defense Fund’s second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 27. The pastors will preach sermons related to biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates or current government officials, exercising their constitutional right to free religious expression despite a problematic Internal Revenue Service rule that activists groups often use to silence churches.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the ADF Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit. Some of the pastors preaching Sunday will address the positions of candidates in current state governor’s races; others will address the positions of existing government officials or people who have declared themselves for office in future elections.

“Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “ADF is not trying to get politics into the pulpit. On the contrary, the whole point is that 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. We need the government to get out of the pulpit.”

Since the addition of the Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code in 1954, the IRS has issued increasingly vague guidance on the law, which limits the First Amendment rights of pastors speaking from the pulpit, but has continued to launch investigations while avoiding court review of the constitutionality of its actions.  Groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken advantage of the vagueness of the tax law and have reported churches to the IRS in an attempt to remove their tax-exempt status.

Stanley explained that, contrary to the misunderstandings of many, tax-exempt status is not a “gift” or “subsidy” bestowed by the government.

“Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954,” explained Stanley. “The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS. Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to be critical of blatant immorality in government and foregoing opportunities to praise moral government leaders. The participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refuse to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.