Pulpit Free Sunday: It was only the Start

The Facts

  • The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
  • The First Amendment clearly allows churches to exist, and allows people to attend the church of their choice.
  • Although not in the First Amendment, Thomas Jefferson wrote “separation of church and state” in a paper.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court first used the phrase in 1878 (Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 U.S)
  • In 1954, Congress added Section 501(c)(3) to the tax code to prohibit intervention in political campaigns by tax-exempt organizations.
  • Section 501(c)(3) only limits a pastor’s political involvement from the pulpit, but not as a citizen.
  • Churches may be politically involved at the expense of losing their tax exemption.
  • Courts have upheld 501(c)(3).
  • The Pew Research Center shows two-thirds of us oppose church involvement in partisan politics
  • The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) challenges the IRS about pastors endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
  • Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) introduces HR 2275 seeking to repeal 501(c)(3).
  • On Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008, approximately 30 pastors (supported by the ADF) challenge the IRS by endorsing a candidate from the pulpit.
  • The next day, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State file complaints to the IRS about the sermons.
  • To this date, the IRS has yet to react.

Thoughts
When faced with a choice, the ADF clearly wants both political involvement and tax-exempt status. They challenge the definition of religious activity in the same way they challenge defining science in the evolution-creation debate. Without an agreed upon definition, how can a resolution occur when there is a disagreement about the actual question.

The Pulpit Freedom pastors knowingly and willingly violated a standard with a known consequence in hopes of overturning 501(c)(3). Given current congressional composition, HB 2275 has little-to-no hope; therefore the ADF is promoted the action so they challenge the anticipated IRS reaction in the courts. Since the IRS has yet to react, the ADF awaits with its claws poised for attack. After all, the once clearly-defined wall separating church and state has been eroded over the past 20 years.

Repealing 501(c)(3) and losing their tax-exempt status would financially impact congregations and their outreach missions; but I don’t think that will happen.

On the other hand, repealing 501(c)(3) while maintaining tax-exempt status allows congregations to play political football with its membership. This would work within a homogeneous church, but such a church is seldom the case. Politics from the pulpit only divides congregations because church members are from a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, and political beliefs that come together in their faith journey.

ADF’s senior legal counsel writes, “Government has no business being in the pulpits of America.” So I ask, does church have business being in America’s government?

This is not a conflict between church and state, but rather a tactic by those seeking to force their societal ideology through political clout. After all, the religious right knows what is best for all of us.

Links
IRS Information

Newsweek Opinion

Fox News (see comments too)

Opposing Vews

Wikipedia Church and State