Over 1,000 pastors are set to defy the IRS next month by intentionally preaching on politics. The ultimate goal is to reach the court so that the "muzzle" on churches can be declared unconstitutional.
"People in America are allowed to debate these issues except for pastors from the pulpit," said Erik W. Stanley, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, on Family Talk last week. "The pastors of America, your voices need to be heard on these vital issues. It's unjust, it's unconstitutional that you've been censored and taken out of the public debate every time an election season rolls around.
"This restriction must be declared unconstitutional."
Alliance Defending Freedom is holding its fifth annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Oct. 7 where pastors throughout the country will preach on what the Bible says on moral and social issues and where the candidates stand. The alliance believes Christian leaders' religious liberty is at stake.
Since 2008, pastors have been challenging the 1954 Johnson Amendment which states that tax-exempt organizations cannot "participate in, or intervene in ... any political campaign on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office."
Lyndon B. Johnson, who was running for reelection to the United States Senate, added the amendment to the tax code.
According Jim Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, Calif., Johnson made the addition after two businessmen who ran nonprofit corporations opposed him. But for the past five decades, the amendment restricting 501(c)3s has been keeping pastors and churches silent.
"They didn't have churches in mind at all. They were going after the businessmen," Garlow said on Family Talk, which is led by well-known evangelical James Dobson.
"I would contend that all the problems we've had since then – the removal of prayer from school, abortion, redefining marriage, massive debt – stems from the silence in the pulpit to speak to community and national life," Garlow asserted.
"The pastor is the moral compass of the entire culture and we have lost our freedoms," he added. "How has that impacted America? Very tragically."
Since 2008, pastors have sent recordings of their sermons where they intentionally violate the Johnson Amendment to the IRS in an attempt to provoke a court case.
ADF's Stanley is convinced the amendment would be declared unconstitutional. That's why he believes the IRS has been "very adept at keeping the issue out of court."
"They prefer to enforce the Johnson Amendment through a system of intimidation and censorship as opposed to a measured enforcement that would deal with the constitutional right of pastors and churches," he said.
This year, Garlow plans to preach on the issues of life, marriage, national debt and concern for the poor as well as where the candidates (President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) stand. He said he will make the case of why a follower of Jesus Christ "wouldn't possibly want to vote for a candidate who's intentionally and knowingly against biblical truth."
Pulpit Freedom Sunday welcomes all churches, both liberal and conservative, to join.
The presidential election will be held in November.