The IRS Says It Will Finally Enforce the Rules Barring Pastors from Endorsing Candidates from the Pulpit

Back in November of 2012, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS because of the government agency’s “failure to enforce electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations.” Basically, churches were endorsing political candidates from the pulpit and the IRS wasn’t doing anything to stop it. Part of the problem was that there was a vacancy in the position which normally handled those issues.

Why is the IRS giving preferential treatment to churches?

The IRS tried to quash this lawsuit before it could proceed but, last August, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman dismissed the IRS’ motion, allowing FFRF to move forward with their lawsuit.

Today, FFRF announced that it had reached a settlement with the IRS.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS. FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”

The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.

We don’t know the terms of the settlement, but the point is that the IRS now says it will enforce its own rules.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. The Christian Right group Liberty Counsel announced this week that it would be distributing 150,000 DVDs to pastors across the country encouraging them to “address biblical and moral issues” from the pulpit — which is evangelical code for “tell your congregations which way to vote” since the only thing pastors ever do is address biblical and moral issues from the pulpit.

(Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver added that if they didn’t send the DVDs, then Hitler would win: “We saw how the spiral of silence had devastating results in Nazi Germany. We need to stop the spiral of silence in America.”)

(Portions of this article were posted earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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