Pastors Defy IRS On 'Pulpit Freedom Sunday'

Baptist took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, defying limits on pastors' speech.

ByABC News
September 26, 2010, 5:11 PM

Sept. 26, 2010 -- Nearly 100 pastors across the country took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday today, an in-your-face challenge to what the government says can and cannot be said in church.

The pastors, along with the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based nonprofit Alliance Defense Fund, planned today's event as a reaction to a law stating that churches are not allowed to support politicians from the pulpit, according to the ADF.

The growing trend is a challenge to the IRS from the churches, and may jeopardize their all-important tax-exempt status. But some pastors and church leaders said they are willing to defy the law to defend their right to freedom of speech.

Pastor Dan Fisher from Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, Okla., who took part in today's challenge, said should be allowed to discuss politics with their congregation.

Separation of church and state is not in the Constitution, but the government uses tax exemption as a means to enforce that notion, he added.

"The crowd applauded, and said it was wonderful," Fisher said of his sermon this morning. "I can't say that everyone was happy, but no one came up to me to complain."

Federal tax law, established in 1954, prohibits churches and tax exempt entities from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an initiative organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization, which according to its website seeks to "defend the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation."

"We believe that a pastor has a right to speak whatever he believes without fearing the government will somehow censor what he says or threaten to take away his tax exemption," ADF spokesman Erik Stanley said.

He said the group believes that the 1954 amendment, sponsored by then Sen. Lyndon Johnson, D-Texas, is a violation of the Constitution. According to the ADF, the government's monitoring of the content of pastors' and churches' speech is a violation of the Free Speech Clause.

The IRS said they'd be keeping an eye on the planned activities.

"We are aware of recent press reports, and will monitor the situation and take action as appropriate," IRS spokesman Robert Marvin said.

In 2008, 33 pastors took part in the first Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when they defiantly spoke of politics to their congregation. Though not an election year, many also participated in 2009.