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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. AmericanCitizenX

    These churches are not churches...they are more like social clubs. This is why I don't attend churches. There are more hypocrites in them than outside in the so called "world".

    October 6, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  2. Steve

    I'm sorry I missed it when these brave Christian warriors banded together to condemn the Bush administration for sending our soldiers to die and kill in immoral wars around the globe. Can you guys please reprint that article?

    October 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Steve, welcome to the Brave New World of contemporary faux Christianity. It is characterized by arrogance, condescension, and hatred. It bears little to no resemblance to what it purports to believe in.

      October 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Steve

      This crop of "Christians" is so un-Christlike. No reasonable person could read the teachings of Jesus and conclude that he would support the policies of either party because even the Democrats would be far too conservative in their policies. Remember far right wingers, Jesus was killed for being a progressive radical and the executioners were the extreme conservative faction. The irony is painful – those who want to inject Christianity into politics are pro-war and anti-health care. Sure, just like Jesus.

      October 6, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  3. Greg

    Tax this pastor. Tax every church were they talk down our President. if they keep doing it. I hope the IRS starts collecting back taxes and impounding property until it stops.

    October 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  4. Rebel4Christ

    These pastors are being rebels for Christ!

    October 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense.

      October 6, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • End Religion

      hogwash

      October 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, they aren't, you idiot. They're being scofflaws, charlatans, and phonies.

      You're just too stupid to realize it.

      October 6, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  5. W.G.

    In Germany when you belong to a church you are required to pay taxes ! I Believe as a Christian that it should be that way
    in America as well !

    October 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @W.G.

      The Church, or each individual pays taxes on what specifically ?

      Sounds like a 'great' idea btw.

      Peace...

      October 6, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  6. TR6

    The pastors tried to influence the election by all praying for Santorum and we saw how well that worked out

    October 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  7. davidmerrill2

    Here is a snippet from the new bylaws at church:

    October 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  8. Sam Yaza

    its all about making it so the church can spend money on candidates,.

    think corporate person hood and money is speech,.. this is seriously bad

    welcome to

    the pseudo theocratic plutocracy of America
    – the pseudo

    October 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  9. Jim

    If these pastors win how long will it be before they get paid to endorse candidates? Hmmm... lots of $$$ to be made here, isn't there?

    October 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  10. OliviaV

    What do these pastors care if they lose their church's tax exemption. Wouldn't they be able to set up shop under another church name the very next day? Church of Heaven and Christ one day and Church of Christ and Heaven the next.

    They've got nothing to lose with doing this. I've seen restaurants closed down and reopened by the same people because of health violations. Same thing.

    October 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  11. gordon

    We have our crazies like the koran burning nut down south and they had binladen not that different

    October 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  12. waitasec

    thats right. we cannot trust for religious individuals to make their own decisions...which is why the fear of god is put into play.

    so much for free will...

    October 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  13. Patty

    Please do not try to assert that these pastors are really not aware of the tax exempt requirements. They should face the same penalties as the average worker who disregards the tax laws. We americans should be calling out LOUDLY for this.

    October 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  14. Max

    Churches are entertainment organizations, not different than the NFL, a gym, or a PAC. Let them pay taxes. Then they can say whatever craziness they feel like.

    October 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • nope

      @max
      nope

      October 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • snopes says

      nope to nope

      October 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Jim

      They do some charity, but mostly they're for entertainment, education or whatever. The NFL and others listed also do some charity, and claim only that on their taxes, right?

      October 6, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  15. charli

    Our countries money problems would be eliminated if churches lost their tax exempt status. In our town, if Catholics had to pay just their property taxes, they would be the largest single tax payer in town. Most people fail to realize the amount of revenue lost to churches. In fact I know people that only believe they do not have to pay taxes on the money they bring in, (donations). They dont even realize the full extent of this bad and unfair waiver they have. So yes, let them start politicking, I am all for it. But I want them to pay up like everyone else.

    October 6, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Proven

    October 6, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Jim

      Opinion, ... unless you can prove it?

      October 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent truths is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent truths, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society
      .......

      October 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things stated once again and again and again over and over, Ad Nauseum,
      "Prayer changes things"

      Earlier I challenged you to do something positive for humanity by praying to stop the international forced sëx trafficking of an estimatated 800,000 people.

      To wit,

      I see your prayers to stop the estimated 800,000 people who are forced into sëx traficking across international borders have not worked.
      Wait since prayer changes things that means you have not been praying to stop this scourge on humanity.

      Why won't you pray to stop this repulsive human abuse?

      Matthew 21:21:
      I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt,not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
      _______________________________________________________________________
      [A true believer can ask a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and it will be done. LOL!]
      _______________________________________________________________________

      Mark 9:23
      All things are possible to him who believes.

      Luke 1:37:
      For with God nothing will be impossible.

      John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

      John 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

      John 14:14 If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.

      Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus' promises about prayer in the Bible.
      So there you have it, straight from Jesus in the New Testament in clear, simple, and unequivocal terms.

      You are a sincere believer are you not?

      ___________________________________________

      October 6, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Fun with anagrams,

      evangelist = evil's agent

      October 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • According to the bible prayer cannot change things

      If god's supreme plan rules in the heavens then prayer is useless. If you pray for something that's not in the plan it won't happen, no matter how hard you pray. And if you pray for something in the plan, it would have happened anyway even without your prayer.
      If god gives us free will, then no matter how hard you pray god refuses to do anything, like not doing anything for the 6m Jews because that would interfere with Hitler's free will

      October 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • nope

      @according...
      nope

      October 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • nope

      @jim....
      nope

      October 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • nope

      @elmer...
      nope

      October 6, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • nope

      @elmer fudd
      nope

      October 6, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  17. davidmerrill2

    People falsely believe they need the tax exemption:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU6fxC5CXMg&w=640&h=360]

    October 6, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  18. Reality

    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 6, 2012 at 7:22 am |
    • George

      Yes, we should turn the other check for the havoc the atheists wreak throughout society as they try to dismantle our Christian nation, brick by brick.

      Consider yourself, a fool. We do.

      October 6, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Do tell, Reality. Is there more to be had than what we could gain by taxing the churches as we should?

      October 6, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Snopes concurs that...

      George is uneducated and has never read the consti.tution of the country that shows it is not a christian nation.

      October 6, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Who's "we", Georgie? Got a gerbil in your pants pocket?

      October 6, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • SG

      George – "Yes, we should turn the other check"

      Was that a Freudian slip?
      Perhaps the church SHOULD tun the other 'check' and make it out to the IRS.
      The churches are just money laundering schemes and should pay their fair share of property and income taxes just like the rest of us. As for: "those who are without sin may cast the first stone...." The church had better not throw any stones themselves......

      October 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 6, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Jaime

      Religion is not healthy for children and other living things. Reason, love and compassion change things.

      October 6, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent truths is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent truths, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 6, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things stated once again and again and again Ad Nauseum,
      "Prayer changes things"

      Earlier I challenged you to do something positive for humanity by praying to stop the international forced sëx trafficking of an estimatated 800,000 people.

      To wit,

      I see your prayers to stop the estimated 800,000 people who are forced into sëx traficking across international borders have not worked.
      Wait since prayer changes things that means you have not been praying to stop this scourge on humanity.

      Why won't you pray to stop this repulsive human abuse?

      Matthew 21:21:
      I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt,not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
      _______________________________________________________________________
      [A true believer can ask a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and it will be done. LOL!]
      _______________________________________________________________________

      Mark 9:23
      All things are possible to him who believes.

      Luke 1:37:
      For with God nothing will be impossible.

      John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

      John 14:13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

      John 14:14 If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.

      Nothing could be simpler or clearer than Jesus' promises about prayer in the Bible.
      So there you have it, straight from Jesus in the New Testament in clear, simple, and unequivocal terms.

      You are a sincere believer are you not?

      ___________________________________________

      October 6, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • truth be told

      Reason love and compassion are attributes of God.

      October 6, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • End Religion

      the god you believe in possesses neither reason, love nor compassion.

      October 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  20. Dadster

    As an old fashion Christian, all I can say is that these are the same Christians who have not only allowed lie after lie to permeate from the Republican party, but have embraced and promoted these lies. These same Chrisitians complained about the unemployed getting 99 weeks of unemployment when they should have been feeling pity for people being unemployed for so long. These same Christians think that they can sit at the right hand of God and judge who is and who isn't a Christian. ( Remember Joel Osteen's "What Romney said is good enough for me!" statement?) These same Christians are the ones who say the rich take care of them, thereby taking credit from God. These same Christians say that they can have more money if Romney were elected while the poor are left to fend for themselves. These Christians will use God to promote a politician when their supposed to be promoting God. ( Just where are those "God told me to run for president" candidates?) These Christians know the law and if they break it, they should suffer the consequences.

    October 6, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Snopes concurs that...

      dadster is delusional

      October 6, 2012 at 6:47 am |
    • SafeJourney

      Dadster, I agree with you completely

      October 6, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Sandy

      Glad to see that all Christians aren't crazy, greedy tools. Thank You.

      October 6, 2012 at 9:29 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.