Monday, September 08, 2008

Group challenges ban on pulpit endorsements

Any pastor who makes political endorsements from the pulpit risks losing their church's tax-exempt status, but a conservative legal group is looking for pastors who will endorse candidates anyway. The Alliance Defense Fund argues that the 54-year-old ban in federal law violates churches' First Amendment freedom of religion. It is recruiting pastors to break the ban by preaching explicitly political sermons on Sept. 28, with plans to mount a legal challenge to the expected investigation by the Internal Revenue Service.

"It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society," says ADF attorney Erik Stanley. "It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society." But Peter Slevin reports in The Washington Post that the planned action has already drawn criticism from other religious leaders. A group of Christian and Jewish clergy will ask the IRS to investigate whether ADF has violated its own tax-exempt status.

Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens says that, in all probability, ADF's legal strategy will not work because the U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the 1954 law. He criticizes the legal group for encouraging illegal behavior. ADF argues that it is doing no such thing. Stanley told Slevin, "We're not encouraging any congregation to violate the law. . . . What we're encouraging them to do is exercise their constitutional right in the face of an unconstitutional law." (Read more)