Dozens of pastors across the country will preach this Sunday providing biblical perspectives on the position of political candidates. The sermons are an act of defiance to the Internal Revenue Service rule that says nonprofits with tax-exempt status cannot endorse a candidate or be involved in political activity.
Participants of the second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday believe the IRS rule "muzzles" pastors from guiding their congregation on moral issues.
More than 80 pastors have signed on to take part in the free speech effort organized by Christian legal firm Alliance Defense Fund. Last September, 33 pastors from 22 states talked politics and endorsed political candidates.
"Pastors have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. "No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights."
Stanley said the Christian legal group is not promoting politics in the pulpit, but is fighting for the right of churches 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," he said. "We need the government to get out of the pulpit."
Some pastors this Sunday will discuss the positions of candidates running for office in their state. Others will address the positions of already elected officials or of those who have declared their intention to run for office in the future.
"Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954," Stanley highlighted.
But the 1954 Johnson Amendment to the Federal Tax Code "muzzled" pastors by making them afraid of being investigated by the IRS, he complained. Many pastors would rather "self-censor" their sermon than risk the possibility of confronting the government.
"The participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refuse to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights," Stanley said.
ADF began Pulpit Freedom Sunday last year during the presidential campaign after some clergies complained that they were being investigated by the IRS for speaking favorably of or for criticizing candidates. The pastors argued that they are not endorsing a candidate but only speaking about biblical values.
Founded in 1994, ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations that defend cases involving religious freedom. It was founded by socially conservative Christians that include prominent evangelical leaders James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.