A liberal church-state separation group filed an IRS complaint Tuesday against an Oklahoma church whose pastor voiced support for a gubernatorial candidate from the pulpit.
Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., was participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday when he spoke about a political candidate during his sermon. The Oklahoma pastor had joined about 100 of his colleagues nationwide in the annual event meant to defy an IRS rule that says churches cannot be involved in any political campaign or risk losing their tax-exempt status.
After hearing about Blair's sermon, Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, urged the IRS to investigate the pastor and his church and to apply the IRS law.
"When churches become cogs in any candidate's political machine, they ought to lose their tax exemption," said Lynn.
But the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian legal group behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, pointed out that AU is doing the very opposite of what it claims to do.
"AU claims to stand for the separation of church and state, yet by complaining to the IRS, AU is asking for government monitoring and surveillance of churches by the state," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley to The Christian Post. "That's not separation of church and state no matter how you look at it."
ADF further contends that the IRS rule has in effect "muzzled" pastors from speaking freely in the pulpit and that "radical groups" like AU use the tax code law as a "political tool" to silence churches, particularly conservative ones. It believes that pastors – liberal and conservative – have a right to use the Bible's teachings to speak on the positions of electoral candidates or current government officials.
Stanley noted that the IRS does not respond to the vast majority of AU's complaints against churches, nearly all of which are conservative. But AU continues to report churches to the IRS in hopes of intimidating them to be silent on political issues.
"AU has been trying to bully churches for many years," Stanley said. "No pastor should ever fear the IRS or AU when they stand in their pulpit to preach biblical truth to their congregation. And the tax code should not be used as a political tool to intimidate churches."
ADF will file suit to protect Pastor Paul Blair and his church if the IRS does try to revoke its tax exempt status.
This year, about 100 pastors participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, up from 80 last year. This year's event was the third spearheaded by Ariz.-based ADF.