SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Alliance Defense Fund announced a new initiative Friday that will challenge the tactics of groups that use the Internal Revenue Service to intimidate churches and pastors into silence on important issues of the day.
"Pastors have a right to speak about biblical values 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. "The government can’t demand that a church give up its right to tax-exempt status simply because the pastor exercises his First Amendment rights in the pulpit. Groups like Americans United intentionally trigger IRS investigations that will silence churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation.
"The new initiative will equip, protect, and defend pastors who wish to exercise their First Amendment right to openly discuss the positions of political candidates and other moral and social issues from the pulpit. Participating pastors across the country will deliver a sermon along these lines in their own churches Sept. 28.
Prior to 1954, churches were free to evaluate the positions of political candidates on moral issues without fear of the Internal Revenue Service revoking their tax-exempt status. That year, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the tax code to add the threat of IRS action against churches if their pastors mentioned the positions of specific candidates from the pulpit. Citing that rule, groups like AU have repeatedly threatened to report churches to the IRS if they speak out on such issues.
Many tax-exempt organizations are permitted to evaluate candidates’ positions based on the values important to those groups. Organizations which are tax-exempt but do not have the same speech restrictions the IRS places on churches include civic leagues; labor, agricultural, or horticultural associations; business leagues; chambers of commerce; real estate boards; boards of trade; professional football leagues; clubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofit purposes; fraternal beneficiary societies; and cemeteries.
"The intimidation of churches by leftist groups using the IRS has grown to a point that ADF has no choice but to respond," said Stanley. "The number of threats being reported to ADF is growing because of the aggressive campaign to unlawfully silence the church. IRS rules don’t trump the Constitution, and the First Amendment certainly trumps the Johnson amendment.
"Pastors who want to learn more or who wish to be considered for participation in Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sept. 28 can visit www.telladf.org/church.
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