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Pastors prepare to take on IRS over political endorsement ban
On Sunday, 1,400 pastors across the country will break the law and talk politics from the pulpit.
October 5th, 2012
11:50 AM ET

Pastors prepare to take on IRS over political endorsement ban

By Dan Merica, CNN

When Ron Johnson takes take his pulpit on Sunday, he will willfully break the law. After presenting his views on President Barack Obama’s handling of religious issues –- like abortion, gay marriage, and religious freedom - Johnson will ask his congregation a question.

“In light of what I have presented,” Johnson says he will say, “How can you go into that election booth and vote for Barack Obama as president of the United States?”

What Johnson plans to do is in violation of the IRS’ so-called Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that has made it illegal for churches that receive tax exempt status from the federal government to intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Why is Johnson so brazenly violating that law this Sunday? Strength in numbers: He will be joined by at least 1,400 others pastors across the United States.

Johnson’s sermon is part of a wider effort by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization that since 2008 has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when they encourage and pledge to help pastors who willfully violate the Johnson Amendment by endorsing from the pulpit.

The movement is growing – and quickly. Pulpit Freedom Sunday had 33 churches participating in 2008, and 539 last year.

The goal: Force the IRS to come down on these churches so that the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose network includes 2,200 attorneys, can test the Johnson Amendment’s constitutionality.

“The IRS has the ability and the authority to regulate their sermons. We are giving them the opportunity to do that and if they challenge that, we will challenge that in court,” said Eric Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom's senior legal counsel. “It is all about creating a test case to find the Johnson amendment as unconstitutional.”

With 31 days until Americans elect their next president, what is said at this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday could hold more sway than in previous years.

“I do think that the fact that it is an election year does make a difference,” Stanley said. “It is very relevant right now. Pastors who participate are speaking to something facing their congregation right at this moment.”

Johnson, who leads an evangelical church in Crown Point, Indiana, said he will not explicitly endorse Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, but will vehemently challenge President Barack Obama, including calling the president’s policies “un-American.”

“As a pastor, I am going to tell it like I see it and I am going to communicate from the word of God,” Johnson said. “I hope that on Election Day, I hope that I have influenced people to protect their conscience.”

Critics charge that the movement is a Republican front dressed up as an exercise in religious freedom. When CNN asked to be put in touch with a church that plans to endorse the president, representatives from the organization said they don’t screen who the churches plan to endorse.

The two pastors that the Alliance Defending Freedom put CNN in touch with plan to either criticize the president or endorse Romney.

“I think there is a possibility that in some of these mega-churches, a pastor's saying it is OK to vote for Mitt Romney … could increase voter turnout,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “The ADF wants to elect the next president. They want to elect Mitt Romney.”

So far, the effort has received little to no response from the IRS.

After the sermons are delivered on Sunday, pastors participating in the Pulpit Freedom event are encouraged to send videos of their remarks to the nation’s tax collection agency. According to Stanley, the majority of the messages in past years have gone unnoticed and only a handful of pastors receive letters, some of which threaten to revoke the churches tax exempt status.

This trend of what some IRS watchdogs call nonenforcement has emboldened pastors and the Alliance Defending Freedom. According to pastors who have participated in the past, the fact that the IRS rarely if ever comes down on the churches emboldens them to keep endorsing.

Stanley and the Alliance Defending Freedom theorize that the IRS doesn’t want to be challenged in court and that the agency may be disorganized.

The IRS did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Lynn and Americans United say that bureaucratic uncertainty as to what level of IRS official can initiate an investigation leads to lack of enforcement.

In the past, the IRS has investigated churches that they suspected of violating the Johnson Amendment.

Four days before the presidential election in 1992, the Landmark Church in Binghamton, New York, ran a full-page ad in USA Today that said, "Christians Beware," and that was followed by a list of Clinton's positions on homosexuality, abortion and the distribution of condoms. At the bottom, the church asked for donations to help pay for the ad.

According to Lynn, Americans United filed a complaint, and in 1995 the church lost its tax-exempt status.

Landmark Church Pastor Dan Little took the IRS to court, arguing that the agency was violating the church's First Amendment rights and that the agency was only able to revoke the tax-exempt status of a "religious organization," not an actual church.

Both a federal judge and an appeals court rejected those arguments.

When asked about people who question whether a pastor should be allowed to endorse from the pulpit, Johnson, the Indiana pastor, laughs.

“Pastors understand how the so called separation of church and state, as it is currently understood. We understand how marginalized we are becoming,” Johnson said. “We are supposed to be part of the community discussion about issues that matter.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Church • Mitt Romney • Politics

soundoff (1,124 Responses)
  1. Elaina Vogelsberg

    Fraud has always been a problem, but now that the Internet is more popular, fraud seems to have found a new home. People use to have to worry about phone calls from scammers, and perhaps the unethical contractor, but today’s big worries come from the things that can show up online in a person’s email inbox. Those phone scammers are still around, but most of these types have turned to the Internet to find victims. Apparently, there are a lot of people out there that are easily taken by Internet fraud, and you don’t want to be one of them..;.;

    http://caramoan.coMy favorite web site

    May 20, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Robbin Goal

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    January 31, 2013 at 5:15 am |
  3. Akihiro

    This reminds me of some of the citricisms some Baptists in the nineteenth century had for those who were seeking to establish such mission agencies and Bible societies. One of their main arguments against cooperative mission work was based on the fear that such work would remove the work of mission from the local church. Although these primitive Baptists never grew to be as large as those Baptists with large mission agencies, their warnings are still good to hear.For more on this, see The Kehukee Declaration and the Black Rock Address.

    November 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  4. I BELIEVE

    Yes sir, it's time to take back this country! Be glad when Romney is president in a few months!!

    October 8, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • derp

      Taking the country back.

      Back to the 12th century.

      October 9, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • waitasec

      funny, if this was gods country, how did it ever cease to be? is god that dependent on folks like yourself....figures.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      @ wait asked,

      Exactly right.

      It's funny how an all-powerful and all -knowing god depends on prayers from mere mortals for this all-powerful and all-knowing god to change gods perfect plan. An all-perfect, all-knowing, and omniscient god is apparently incapable of executing a perfect plan without a myriad of contradictory prayers from the multïtude of religious sects on Earth.

      LOL

      October 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  5. Reality

    Only for the new members of this blog:

    And now moving to the 21st century – from a PowerPoint slide:

    SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:
    THERE NEVER WERE AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR LIKE 9/11.

    SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:
    THERE WERE NEVER ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS AND THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY.

    SAVING 15.5 MILLION FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:
    ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

    AND THE MONEY CURRENTLY BEING WASTED SUPPORTING OR KEEPING RELIGION IN CHECK WOULD GO A LONG WAY IN REDUCING THE FEDERAL BUDGET.

    Added details upon request.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • waitasec

      apparently you or the muslim were born in the wrong region

      talk about stupidity...

      October 8, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  6. waitasec

    issues such as abortion and gay marriage...are not religious issues. these are mere religious opinions...
    just wanted to make that clear. for some reason there is this notion once one slaps religion on an issue it becomes more than what it is...

    religion doesn't seem to fit into the mold of the meek and the humble but rather it justifies hubris

    October 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Reality

      The abortion (contraception/STD issue):

      – from a guy who enjoys intelligent se-x-

      Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. ...

      The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

      : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill (8.7% actual failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% actual failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

      Added information before making your next move:

      from the CDC-2006

      "Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

      And from:

      Consumer Reports, January, 2012

      "Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

      Here's a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active "post-teeners": Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al cancers in America in people under age 50.

      "Adolescents don’t think or-al se-x is something to worry about," said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. "They view it as a way to have intimacy without having 's-ex.'" (It should be called the Bill Clinton Syndrome !!)

      Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the "stupid part of the USA" and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

      The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by "Perfect use":
      – (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)
      – (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)
      Followed by:
      One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
      Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
      The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
      Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
      IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
      Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)

      Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

      October 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • waitasec

      to reality, apparently you need a dose of reality....

      abstinence isn't a part of reality...

      funny, you seem to be completely ignoring the FACT where ever condoms have been distributed in high schools...teen pregnancies drop.

      FACT: teen pregnancies will NEVER be eradicated
      FACT: the bible belt have the highest teen pregnancies and STD's rates in the entire country where they teach abstinence
      duh...

      October 8, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Adrienne

      These are very much religious and moral issues. And religious leaders should be free to share their viewpoints on these issues just as secular organizations, both profit and nonprofit, can. If secular nonprofit organizations can be actively involved in the political process and share their views without losing their tax exempt status, then so should religious organizations. Religious organizations have every right to be heard in the public marketplace of ideas - as much right as any nonreligious secular organization. And they should no more fear losing tax exempt status than a secular nonprofit organization should.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  7. NO BS

    The IRS should tax the HELL out of these lying con men criminals that take advantage of stupid people they brainwash with their lies and con scams

    October 8, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  8. Cq

    If pastors were allowed to do this how long would it be before candidates paid them to do it, and elected candidates manipulated things in order to place sympathetic pastors upon the pulpits? The way I see it breaking down the wall just leaves the churches open to becoming the puppets of political parties.

    October 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      "If you can get your church to vote for me i'll make sure you get some of my "charrity" this year, if you know what i'm saying, wink wink, nudge nudge."

      October 8, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  9. Bill Deacon

    I like the way the Catholic Church handles the issue. In the "Formation of Conscience for Citizens" the US Conference of Catholic Bishops urges all Catholics to be involved in the issues of the day, to compare proposed and existing laws to the teachings of the Church and to vote their individual conscience. This allows them to teach the concepts of the faith, encourages good citizenship and refrains from specific endorsements. This why you see Catholics split along party lines since neither party is dogmatic to the catechism.

    October 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • The Church

      "We shall not try and persuade anyone to vote for this candidate or that... however, you should be aware that candidate A believes in birth control and contraceptives which are obviously the work of the Devil!! Now go vote for either candidate, i'm sure they are equally fine in Gods eyes... except for the one that will burn for eternity for embracing gay rights!! Now we can all be reasonable and not take sides in these political contests... but if you vote for that guy the oceans will run red with blood and the four horsemen shall ride the earth!!!"

      "to compare proposed and existing laws to the teachings of the Church and to vote their individual conscience" Yeah right.

      October 8, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I can see you've done your comparison and come to the obvious conclusion as to which party most supports the teaching of the Church.

      October 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Adrienne

      Bill, I agree wholeheartedly. It is the job of a pastor to preach from the Bible and church teachings. Congregants make the application to issues of the day.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  10. Haywood

    These "pastors" have confused a tax break with religious freedom. I do not want my tax dollars to subsidize the Republican Party. they are free to preach partisan talking points, but not to get a tax break for doing so. They are a bunch of drama queens pretending to be oppressed.

    Also, by politicizing Christianity with their dollar idolatry, they are driving many people away from the faith.

    October 8, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Adrienne

      OK. You say "I do not want my tax dollars to subsidize the Republican Party." Do you want your tax dollars to subsidize the Democratic Party?

      October 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Adrienne

      Did Martin Luther King politicize Christianity with his active support and involvement with the civil rights movement? Did Christian abolitionists politicize Christianity with not only their support of but spearheading of this movement? Do Christian peace activists politicize Christianity with their active support of this cause? How about churches which fight trafficking and promote legislation against this? Are they politicizing Christianity?
      I think the real motive behind the tax exempt argument is to go after pastors and churches which express views you disagree with, not because you don't like churches getting involved in politics. It's fine for churches to be politically active as long as it's for a cause you agree with.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  11. Obama 2012

    We're off to see the Wizard

    The Wonderful Barack of O

    We hear he is a Whiz of a Wiz

    If ever a Wiz there was

    If ever, oh ever, a Wiz there was

    The Prez of DC is one because

    Because, because, because, because, because

    Because of the wonderful things he does

    We're off to see the wizard

    The Wonderful Prez Obama!

    October 8, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Ken

      I wouldn't call him a "wonderful" president, but he's better than the last guy, that guy's father, and the guy who's trying to be the next president.

      October 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  12. ronny

    If god farts, does it smell?

    October 8, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Obama 2012

      Well, it depends... did you put on deodorant today?

      October 8, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • ronny

      Well, he made us in his image, and we fart. So the logical conclusion would be that god farts. I am curious what a god fart would smell like.

      Raw sewage?

      Roses?

      Who really knows.

      Maybe I should ask the pope.

      October 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Mick

      Well, the Republican Party sure stinks, so there's your answer.

      October 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • The Truth

      God has never farted, he only sharted that one time about 14.5 billion years ago...

      October 8, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  13. The Right Left

    We need to get rid of tax exemption for Chucrh or religious donations and tax the churches on their income, just like any other business. They are in effect a business, an industry that makes money off of gullible people, by selling a feel good bag of goods. No different than going to a movie or watching a talk show.

    Denying tax exemptions to both donors and churches will really show if these churches can survive on their by peddling their nonsense. I bet people will stop buying their fairy tales and these churches will be put out of business, closing a chapter of human hsitory written with blood and suffereing of mankind by competing dogmas.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Adrienne

      So secular organizations never mislead people and are noble and righteous. Only churches. The anti-religious bias of so many posts here is very disturbing. Out and out hostility. Unless the churches conform to what you believe. If pastors and churches differ in their views, then they should be taxed.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  14. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    I have often stated that Churches continually violate that law, every election cycle. IF the Christian right wants to continue to influence politics, we should allow it, then we should tax EVERY church/religious organization inthe United States. Think of the BILLIONS in tax dollars from the Catholic and Mormon Churches alone.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Adrienne

      You say "IF the Christian right wants to continue to influence politics, we should allow it, then we should tax EVERY church/religious organization inthe United States. " In this statement you reveal your bias.
      How about "IF the Christian LEFT wants to continue to influence politics, we should allow it, then we should tax EVERY church/religious organization inthe United States.

      You seem to want to tax churches whose beliefs differ from your own. Would you want to tax a church which supports positions you agree with? I think not.

      Many on this board are angry at pastors and churches which hold different views than their own and so want to tax them. However, I did not hear these same arguments for churches which are clearly political but whose positions more reflect your own. No outcry about revoking tax exemption for churches supporting the civil rights movement. In fact, I haven't hear angry threats to revoke tax exempt status even if the pastor himself (or herself) actually runs for office. As long as the pastor / church's views reflect those of the potential critics.

      If you allow secular nonprofit organizations to make endorsements and to be actively involved in the political process without fear of losing their tax exempt status then the same should be true for churches and other religious organizations.

      October 9, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  15. The Right Left

    These church leqaders are snake oil salesmen on street corner trying to peddle to an ever shrinking base. They are taking a page from Rush Limbaugh and company to be as provocative as they can to keep them on front page. These leaders and their churches represent the darker side of our soceity and history, when these churches and leaders in the South creid foul over abolsihing slavery. Shame on these people.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  16. sheetiron

    Its really weird to see people who are very much in support of separation of church and state also support taking away churches tax exemption. You do know that the reason churches have tax exemption is because of separation between church and state right? If you take away tax exemption you take away separation between church and state. is that what you want?

    October 8, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • CTed

      You are on crack. NOT taxing churches is a violation of the separation of chuch and state. You are giing favored status to a rleigious organization because they are religious and no other reason – that's esatblishment. Nobody is saying they can't say wahtever they heck they want whenever they want. They just have to pay taxes like anyone else.

      When Tony robbines takes money and then talks to people to inspire them, he pays taxes.
      When Joel Ostien does teh EXACT same thing he doesn't get taxed becuase he peppers the word "god" in there a few times.

      Rediculous.

      The Mormon church has 40 Billion dollars and invests in companies and real estate... it's a business. Tax it.

      October 8, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Richard

      Early contender for stupidest post of the day.

      October 8, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • J.W

      Why do people think that religious leaders don't pay taxes? That is not true.

      October 8, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Because then they couldn't justify their ignorant attacks on the church.

      October 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.