Last month, in the face of a lawsuit from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the IRS agreed that it would enforce its own rules and go after pastors who endorsed political candidates from the pulpit. This had become a trend in recent years, especially with “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” but the IRS never went after those churches.
Conservative Christian groups are now arguing this is an issue of free speech — ignoring the fact that the rule applies to all non-profits — and one legal group is essentially provoking the IRS to come after its clients:
Alliance Defending Freedom has been campaigning to overturn the portion of the tax code that prohibits nonprofit organizations from “intervening in political campaigns as a condition of their tax-exempt status.” To achieve that, it has organized the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday since 2008, for which it encourages pastors to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech — including political speech — from the pulpit and send copies of their sermons to the IRS. Once the IRS attempts to take away a church’s tax-exempt status, ADF will represent the church free of charge and seek to declare the law unconstitutional, Eric Stanley, senior counsel with ADF, said.
It’s hard to see any path to political victory there. The current law, which doesn’t single out churches in any way, hardly violates a non-profit’s free speech rights just because they can’t endorse specific candidates. If they don’t want the exemption, no one’s forcing them to have it. They’re welcome to give it up and endorse whomever they’d like.
If anything, allowing churches to endorse candidates would only serve to increase a rift that’s already widening. Can you imagine what would happen if an evangelical pastor supported a liberal Democrat? Chaos. What if a pastor decided not to take sides at all? Coward! Churches are already under fire for being too political — giving pastors the ability to actually be involved in politics would only make things worse for them.