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Pastors nationwide defy IRS regulation, address politics on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”

Hundreds of preachers across America were politically disobedient Sunday, following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as they publicly defied a 1954 law that gags them from preaching about politics.

The law was authored by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, angry that he had been denounced from the pulpit of two churches.

Sunday is referred to as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Here Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in California explains what it’s all about.

How many pastors participated? The Alliance Defense Fund, a nonprofit legal defense group, sponsors the annual event, which started with 33 pastors in 2008. This year spokespersons have called on 1,000 religious leaders to sign on.


Many of the pastors participating say that they only rarely speak out on political issues. However, they are uncomfortable with the IRS regulation — which they say violates First Amendments rights to free speech and freedom of religion. The regulation basically says that if churches are going to be exempt as non-profits, they give up the right to participate in the political process. It was wrong to make the rule in 1954, it is only enforced selectively often because someone with a grudge lodges a complaint with IRS — and it needs to come off of the books.

“There should be no government intrusion in the pulpit,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor at Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., who led preachers in the battle to pass California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage. “The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion promised under the First Amendment means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say.”


Garlow told the New York Times he planned to inveigh against same-sex marriage, abortion and other touchstone issues that social conservatives oppose, and some ministers may be ready to encourage parishioners to vote only for those candidates who adhere to the same views or values.

“I tell them that as followers of Christ, you wouldn’t vote for someone who was against what God said in his word,” Mr. Garlow said. “I will, in effect, oppose several candidates and — de facto — endorse others.”

Two Republican candidates in particular, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, would presumably benefit from some pulpit politics on Sunday, since they have been courting Christian conservatives this year.

Participating ministers plan to send tapes of their sermons to the I.R.S., effectively providing the agency with evidence it could use to take them to court.

“It’s frustrating,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel at Alliance Defense. “The law is on the books but they don’t enforce it, leaving churches in limbo.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mizonglohong

    I completely believe in the first amendment, but they will no longer be separately church from state and should be subject to tax. They are no longer a church, but instead a PAC.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry Linn

    When I was in Plano Texas a few weeks ago, I drove by several churches on Sunday morning along my route to visit a teacher whom was laid off because of budget cuts. At several of the large churches, uniformed police officers were directing traffic in and out of the church parking lots. It is ironic that there are no funds for teachers, but there is money to pay for trained and experienced police officers to direct parking lot traffic. The churches should be taxed.

  • Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

    Rather cheap shot on your part. If you had checked before making a public accusation of wrongdoing, you’d find that Plano police officers quite often pick up extra cash by working as private guards and traffic control — and are paid by the fairs, festivals or churches, not by taxpayers. Throughout the United States, depending on department policy, police are allowed to wear their uniforms when doing such moonlighting.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Allan

    When I was in a Presbyterian Sunday School many years ago, we used to sing a song with the chorus: “You bring the one next to you, and I bring the one next to me, in no time at all we’ll have them all if we win them one by one.”

    These pastors have to remember that they should be preaching towards individuals, not nations. Only by winning individuals can we ever hope to convert a nation. I don’t recall Peter or Paul preaching against Caesar, but by converting individuals, eventually Christianity did convert an empire. Perhaps these pastors should lower their vision of their own importance and get back to what is really important.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Collin

    Umm. Under the existing law the pastors can already advocate against same sex marriage, abortion, and so on. They can even legally advocate for their parishioners to keep that in mind when voting. All that the law does is block them from telling their parishioners to vote for a specific candidate.

    “De facto” endorsements, i.e. naming issues that are of concern that only some candidates fit, is as I understand it and my church has practiced it, fine. Where you get into trouble is when you name a candidate or candidates as good or bad in effect turning the house of god into a cheap publicity stopover.

    With that in mind it doesn’t seem like churches are all that muzzled unless they want to deliver votes for a specific candidate not for issues.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary Waterton

    Clearly the pastors want the IRS to act against them so they can take the issue to court and have the law overthrown. Most people don’t realize that the courts cannot take unilateral action. Somebody affected by an unconstitutional laws must first file suit. I’m pleased that there are at least a few pastors with spine enough to take on the task. Most pastors love money so much that they do whatever the Government wants, no matter how evil.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jackie

    Aren’t the police officers still using their cars, guns, and uniforms? Aren’t they supported with our tax dollars? If it isn’t about being a police officer with the rights and power they have, why dont’ they just hire a laid off everyman to direct the traffic?

  • Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

    I’m not sure I want the kid fired from MacDonalds out there directing traffic.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bertell P Bailey

    Well Politicians:

    You can’t talk about God and Godly things in your venue. The People of God
    will talk about you in their venue!!
    “Y’all” leave a lot to be talked about, just about a second New Testament!!! bpb

  • Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

    Politicians talk about God and faith whenever they wish. In the past week, President Obama proclaimed that “Jesus is Lord, I believe that,” Herman Cain quipped that he’d give “Hail to the Chief” a Gospel beat and Michelle Bachmann told a college crowd about how she became a dedicated Christian. Then there’s Rick Perry’s prayer rally. Shall we talk about Ron Paul’s devout faith? Or Mitt Romney’s?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment grannyj3

    I hope they reminded parishioners of Jesus’ admonition to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. Which candidates endorse that belief?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ron Clinger

    The intent of separation of church and state was to assure all men the freedom to worship God without interference of government. This was included in the constitution due to the King of England suppressed all religions other than his own. The intent was not to keep churches out of politics, it was to keep politics out of churches.
    It is unfortunate that this constitutional right has been basically ignored by our elected officials. Elected officials have written multiple laws that suppress all mens freedom to worship the Lord according to their religeous beliefs.
    Attempts to regulate what can or cannot be spoken in any church as well as the systematic removal of any and eventually all references of God in all public areas is clearly a violation of the intent of our freedom of religion!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment harry

    Ministers can support political postions, all the church has to do is to pay taxes. If they do not than they broke their word and contract with the IRS. Is that Christian?

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