Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pastors plan to challenge law in pulpits tomorrow

Here's a story that might be going on near you tomorrow. The Alliance Defense Fund is coordinating an effort by pastors to flout the 1954 law that says religious and other non-profit organizations that take sides in elections must pay federal income taxes. In its "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," ministers are expected to preach "about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office," ADF says. The group hopes for a court case that will weaken or strike down the law, though legal experts say similar cases have already upheld it, reports Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times.

Goodstein writes that 33 ministers will participate in the effort and send copies of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service. ADF, which Goodstein identifies as "a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes," says it won't reveal their names until after the sermons are delivered. "When the fund first announced the protest this year, it said it planned to have 50 ministers taking part. As of Thursday it said it had hundreds of volunteers, but had selected only 33 who were fully aware of the risks and benefits," Goodstein reports.

The Rev. Luke Emrich of New Life Church, "a small evangelical church in West Bend, Wis., demurred when asked which candidate he planned to endorse on Sunday," Goodstein writes. Emrich told her, “I would say endorsement is a strong word,” he said. “I’m planning to make a recommendation. I’m going to evaluate each candidate’s positions in light of Scripture and make a recommendation to my congregation as to which candidate aligns more so.” Goodstein reports, "Organizers said they wanted a range of clergy of various faiths and political persuasions to join the protest, but acknowledged that the participants might be 'weighted' toward the conservative end of the spectrum and more likely to support" Sen. John McCain and other Republicans. (Read more)

Americans United for Separation of Church and State says it will report to the IRS "houses of worship that flagrantly violate federal tax law by taking part in a Religious Right-led effort to politicize America’s pulpits this Sunday." A group of religious leaders from Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and other states has already filed a complaint with the IRS.

Central Church in Collierville, Tenn., which has 3,000 members, won;t be participating. It turned down a chance to host presidential candidate Mike Huckabee because of the law, and pastor Ernie Frey told Lindsay Melvin of the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he would like to see it repealed. "Our calling from God is to be able to call the truth," he said. (Read more)

For our first post on this, click here.

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