Most Pastors Don't Want IRS Regulating Sermons on Politics

Amid ongoing debate over whether pastors should be allowed to preach on political candidates and issues, a new survey reveals that most pastors do not want the government regulating their sermons.

Seventy-nine percent of surveyed Protestant pastors said they strongly disagree with the statement: "The government should regulate sermons by revoking a church's tax exemption if its pastor approves of or criticizes candidates based on the church's moral beliefs or theology."

Another seven percent "somewhat" disagreed, according to the survey, which was sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund and conducted by LifeWay Research.

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Only 10 percent of the pastors agreed with the statement.

The survey, released Monday, comes less than a month before Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an initiative by the Alliance Defense Fund that is designed to "secure the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit."

Every year since 2008, pastors from across the country joined the initiative by preaching freely on politics and endorsing candidates in the church. The initiative has now become the "Speak Up Movement" with pastors encouraging fellow preachers to speak boldly and biblically.

ADF has argued that clergy have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to talk about politics in church, which directly challenges IRS rules for non-profit religious organizations.

Congress made it illegal in 1954 for tax-exempt groups to intervene in a political campaign. Though pastors are allowed to engage in political activity as an individual, they are restricted when they step up to the pulpit. According to IRS rules, pastors cannot endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit.

The ADF opposes the restriction, claiming that "pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS" and are forced to choose between participating in political campaigns and accepting tax-deductible donations.

“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley in a statement Monday.

“Keeping the gospel central to what is preached is not in conflict with addressing the subject of political candidates when warranted. These results show that the desire to keep the gospel central does not mean that pastors want the IRS to regulate their sermons under the threat of revoking their church’s tax-exempt status."

While the new survey, which was conducted among 1,000 Protestant pastors in August, shows a majority of them being opposed to the government regulating sermons, an earlier survey by LifeWay had found that most pastors disagree specifically with endorsing candidates in church.

"Pastors ... clearly don't think the pulpit is the place for politics, nor do they think the church is the place for the IRS," Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said in a statement Tuesday.

This year's Pulpit Freedom Sunday is scheduled for Oct. 2.

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