By Dan Merica, CNN
In a sermon that likely broke the law, Indiana pastor Ron Johnson told his 400 congregants Sunday that for those who believe in the Bible, the decision to vote against President Barack Obama “is a no-brainer.”
“For Christian people who believe the Bible is the inspired world of God, it is not rocket science,” Johnson told CNN after his sermon.
Johnson’s anti-Obama sermonizing likely violated the so-called Johnson Amendment, an Internal Revenue Service rule that forbids 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.”
But Johnson appears comfortable with defying the IRS. His sermon was part of a national campaign by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization that has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday since 2008, encouraging pastors to flout the Johnson Amendment with political endorsements from the pulpit.
Alliance Defending Freedom said that more 1,500 other pastors across the United States participated Sunday. The goal: to force the IRS to come down on these churches so the organization, 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 Erik Stanley, Alliance Defending Freedom's senior legal counsel. “It is all about creating a test case to find the Johnson Amendment as unconstitutional.”
With less than a month until the presidential election, what was said at this year’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday could hold more sway than in previous years.
Critics say the movement is a Republican front dressed up as an exercise in religious freedom, an allegation the event organizer rejects.
“The ADF wants to elect the next president. They want to elect Mitt Romney,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “This is not about some principle.”
Johnson denies that, noting on Sunday he did not endorse Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, but instead urged his congregation to vote against Obama, whose policies he called “un-American.”
He said the speech received a number of standing ovations.
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 whom the churches plan to endorse.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has ties to other conservative Christian groups such as the American Family Association and Focus on the Family.
“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,” Lynn said.
So far, the effort has received little to no response from the IRS.
The IRS did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Many of the sermons from Sunday will be sent to the nation’s tax collection agency, a move that organizers hope will make it easy for the IRS to come down on the churches. 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 nonenforcement by the IRS has emboldened some pastors and the Alliance Defending Freedom, said Lynn of Americans United. According to pastors who have participated in the past, the fact the IRS rarely if ever comes down on these churches encourages 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.
But the lack of enforcement stems from bureaucratic uncertainty about what rank an IRS official must be to initiate an investigation, Lynn said.
In the past, the IRS has investigated churches that it suspected of violating the Johnson Amendment.
Four days before the 1992 presidential election, the Landmark Church in Binghamton, New York, ran a full-page ad in USA Today that said, "Christians Beware," followed by a list of Bill 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 the church lost its tax-exempt status in 1995.
Landmark Church pastor Dan Little took the IRS to court, arguing the agency was violating the church's First Amendment rights and the agency was only able to revoke the tax-exempt status of a "religious organization," not an actual church.
Both a U.S. District Court judge and a federal appeals court rejected those arguments.
Johnson, the Indiana pastor, laughs when asked about those who question whether a pastor should be allowed to endorse from the pulpit.
“Pastors understand 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.”
Solution. NO TAX EXEMPT STATUS for religions. They do as much harm as good.
Rember that time when ya'll had that chick magnet that made us all get all feminine and then it started working and sucked hundreds of babes out of then air? I was just thinkin' I wish I still had one of those chick magnets.
No tax exemption for .
They do more harm than good.
CNN deleted information I put in angle brackets. My post should have read:
No tax exemption for - fill in name of secular nonprofit organization here - .
They do more harm than good.
It is silly that the churches are still tax exempt anyway. All tax exempt status should be revoked. Christianity can be practiced without property; Religion requires money and the two are not necessarily good companions.
There should be no individual tax deduction for giving to churches and no tax exempt status for any church. Let them preach what ever they please.
Take away the tax exempt status of nonreligious nonprofits first.
Then maybe you can make a case for removing it from religious organizations.
I will agree with that too.
“The IRS has the ability and the authority to regulate their sermons." No, the IRS does not have that ability. They have the ability to say "if you want this preferred status, you have to follow these rules." The IRS is saying, go ahead and be political all you want. You just won't be able to be a non-profit organization if you do.
Since when can the IRS regulate what pastors preach in church?
That's the whole point of this civil disobedience: they want the opportunity
to argue the matter in court and get it overturned.
The IRS has no business telling a pastor, "You can't say this in church."
@Fred- Then they can give up their tax exempt status and preach whatever they please, but if they CHOOSE to partake in a special privilege (tax exempt status) then they need to play by the rules of having that special privilege. It is sad that so many people need someone to tell them how to vote, but I'm not surprised, the religious need someone to tell them what to think at every turn.
The most important thing to keep in mind from brooke's post is that tax exemption is a special privelage. Not to mention churches don't even need to go through everything every other non-profit organizations go through to obtain that status. If they want to keep special privelages, they need to follow the same rules all the other non-profits do. Would you be willing to make your same argument if it came to a Hindu church? Buddhist, Sikh, Greek, or Muslim?
Seems to me the churches and religious organizations have become political action committees, and must be taxed. That would easily pay off the national debt too.
I might take your post seriously if you could spell "privilege" correctly.
They must not know about the Johnson Amendment in Detroit. Nobody gets elected here without Detroit pastors behind them. The politicians will even campaign in churches.
Evangelical republicans, thank you for taking a du mp on our consti tution and wiping with our bill of rights.
BTW, according to your own pastors you are trying to elect a cult leader whose book of Mormon calls Christianity the religion of the devil that leads people astray. Good luck with that! Remember that is from your own pastors not me. I happen to agree with mormons that evangelicals do lead people astray.
You left out the part where the sky is falling...
This is not disrespecting the Bill of Rights.
It is reinforcing the idea that the government can not dictate what the churches can and
can not say.
Thank You – Ben Franklin was a deist as well as well as a nudist and a philanderer. John Adams was congregationalist as I recall.- did not approve of religions having central authority beyond the local congregations. Well done!
I meant this to a reply to mama kindless' comments below..- why did it put it as a standalone reply?
. John Adams was the president of the Deist Club at Harvard. Abigail was a committed Deist as well. John insisted that Abigail and the children attend the Congregational Church while he was in Paris. There are a few letters between the two with Abigail complaining about the church and rejecting the "one plus one plus one equals one" of the Trinity. “How the trinity equals Mono-theism is a question that will forever go unanswered” wrote Abigail describing her dissatisfaction with the Congregational Church.
When one considers "god and the devil", "angels and demons", and an "angel hierarchy", "saints and sinners" and an "eternal afterlife", I'd say they religions of today have created another supernatural mythology that is purely imaginary. If one is wrong, then all of them are wrong.
Laws should never be made on religious grounds ... that is really bad government for sure.
No religion == no sin! And that is the factual truth!
This snake-oil salesman mentions christians, the bible, and science in one sentence. Science has nothing to do with the other two.
This is not new. Many preachers have been preaching politics from the pulpit for years, most notably in black churches. Rev. Wright, etc. The only person who should be promoted by the church is Jesus. He gets my vote. It just so happens I know plenty of high level scientist who are Christians.
What does knowing "high level scientists that are christians" have to do with this article?
besides, I know a french chef who has a secret love for twinkies. That doesn't mean that hydroginated oil and white flour are the new haute cuisine.
One more reason to end religion's tax-free ride. Let them pay taxes on their hobby the same as the rest of us do. Then they can pontificate on politics all that they please.
Religion is a hobby! Good description of the sheeple!
At best, it is the origin of hate and evil and a tyrannical majority! I do not want to looks at their worst, because that will lead to the Catholic Inquisition, including their torture and murder of innocent humans in a false deity's name. How horrible they are!
More people have been killed and maimed over religion than any other cause in the known history of humankind.
Being that Romans 13 says to obey any authority in the world because this god put it there, it seems these pastors are rebelling against their god. And, no, Romans 13 has *no* exceptions to it. Paul claims that *all* authorities are in power because of his god, no exceptions mentioned, not Caesar, not the Persian kings, no one that Paul should have mentioned as an exception if he thought they were somehow ungodly.
You are misinterpreting and misapplying scripture.
Obey authority, yes, but speak out against injustice and the unfair.
This definitely comes under the category of unjust.
@Fred- Your reading comprehnsion is terrible, and a strong case for strengthening education in America. What the poster was referring to was preachers who speak out against Obama, when it was supposedly, according to your bible, God's choice that he was put in office in the first place. Of course this is utterly ridiculous to most rational thinking people, but you religious people are supposed to believe it. So why are pastors going around preaching against what God himself put into place? Did your all powerful god make a mistake that you now need to correct?
It cannot be much of a decent supernatural god who makes so many mistakes that the sheeple have to fix them. If it was so smart, why did it make so many mistakes when it should have known so in advance of making them.
No, there justly is no god, and no afterlife as the religions teach! Religions only causes pain, anguish and a tyrannical majority!
Wow, I guess that's why the Pharisees crucified Jesus then...he was rebelling against their authority, which was corrupt. According to your interpretation of scripture Jesus was against God and that puts you in some hot water... I don't know about your brand of Christianity but my brand follows what Jesus did, not what your Government does... You should probably go back and read those scriptures again...
your reading comprehension is horrible. Apparently, you didn't read his post or my post.
Put the bong down and pay attention.
First of all, he is misapplying scripture and misinterpreting the scripture he does use.
Second, this is why atheists should not attempt to explain scripture. They don't know what
they are talking about.
Yes, they need to tighten up standards. You somehow fell through the cracks of the school system.
ah, yes, the usual claims of "misapplying" and "misinterpreting" scripture, with the Christian in question insisting that they and they alone know what God really meant. I do always love watching that claim when I can see how Christians themselves can't agree each other on what their god actually meant or said. They all are sure that they and they alone have the "right" answer, be it Fred Phelps or Martin Luther King. And they are sure that those "others" aren't "TrueChristians" at all, only themselves.
Religion is all filtered through what each individual Christian wants and hates. There is no evidence of any Christian having any magical "truth". It's all made up by them, no god to be found. Sorry, Fred but I as an atheist do know my bible quite well and often better than any Christian. I was a Christian and I have read the bible both as a believer and as not. I can find Christians that agree with me and not. And there is not one shred of evidence that any Christian has some right answer or that their god even exists.
“Pastors understand the so-called separation of church and state, as it is currently understood. We understand how marginalized we are becoming,” Johnson said.
Yes that "so called Const i tution" protects us from mentally ill t ards like you.
It protects you from sarah palin's little retard as well.
Speaking of mental illness, you need to take your meds.
No, really, I believe you've missed a couple of doses...at least.
Fred, you are so deluded. Are you aware of the "God gene"? It does exist. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_gene
We can see is operational form MRI's when nuns meditate, and when epileptics have a seizure. That should tell you something truthful about religion ... it is a metal disorder.
You see, all the religions and leaders of history killed off the independent thinkers, skewing the development of humankind into developing the subservient sheeple and god genes. Those who claim there is no evolution are direct examples of how evolution works.
There is no god, no supernatural, and certainly no afterlife as your might envision. Get over it! Down with religion in ALL its forms and rituals. They all are definitely wrong and evil.
Poor Quasi. He wants to be right so bad.
He regurgitates the pablum that the atheists feed him.
Sorry, but those arguments of yours ring hollow.
EPIC FAIL for you, son.
This is a joke...does no one remember Reverand Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ? Perhaps Father Pfleger here in Chicago? Both HUGE supporters of Obama and VERY political....Pfleger even went after Hilary Clinton for Obama in the primary. I have no problem with the IRS going after these situations...I know it is VERY HARD for CNN but at least try to be fair.
"When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny."
– Thomas Jefferson
Our current administration wants us to fear them. That is why they go after a pastor who does not support him yet leaves other religous figures alone who do. Also why they don't go after thugs who stand outside voting areas with clubs telling everyone that they "better" vote for Democrats "... or else" but they go after ANYONE who supports the Republicans!
Huh. And I fear the CHURCHES. They are just a bunch of cults trying to control their flocks. THEN they take MY TAX MONEY (a TAX EXEMPTION is just a GIFT of FREE services from the rest of us) to tell me LIES. Take away ALL TAX EXEMPTIONS FROM CHURCHES. Period. If they want to push their brand of BS, FINE, just DON'T MAKE ME PAY FOR IT!
So if Willard loses then there is no god? Because I'm sure that is the skyfairy existed he could make sure his guy wins.
The only good I can find in fundamentalists consumed by the afterlife is they will make better dead people than live ones.
Lol. You are to fundamentalists what Will Rogers was to politicians with that statement.
“Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person’s religion, be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any other person, because that other person don’t believe it also. But when a man’s religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to lodge in, then I think it high time to take that individual aside and argue the point with him.”
They do this every year. The IRS usually just ignores them which really get them riled up.
Thank you in advance for making my new job tax free while I am out in Panama City scarin' up venture capital money for my stand up comedy tour "Meatwad Unplugged: No Buns Allowed", and also we are gettin a tan.
Wait let me fix that.
"Christian people who believe the Bible is the inspired world of God, are not capable of rocket science."
I'm glad I'm not the only one who recognized how stupid that statement was.
Atheists who believe that Christians cannot be rocket scientists, are not capable of making factual statements.
All either of you have proven to me is that believing in Christianity sure isn't rocket science...
Sounds accurate enough to me.
–Signed, An Atheist.
Ned – Sarcasm need not be entirely factual.
Actually, a good friend of mine is a retired rocket scientist and a lifelong Christian, having been brought up in a family that practiced and preached Weslean values.
Now see, you can't go putting "Atheists who believe that Christians cannot be rocket scientists, are not capable of making factual statements." in a Evangelical Fortune Cookie fortune. That's why you never made it out of bootcamp.
Surprise! I know alot of Christian rocket scientists. Maybe you aren't capable of rocket science....
My uncle is a retired rocket scientist, worked on the Appolo project. He's a very devout christian, and a complete and total A$$ hole. I was terrified to visit his house when I was a kid. I hope i never see the pri(k again in my life.
gunnard .. or his non-existent afterlife either! LOL
so why does this PASTOR not also say the same about his fellow mates feasting on young bois
The IRS needs to follow through with this and revoke their tax exempt status. They are breaking the law. Simple as that.
It's an unjust law, simple as that.
Stupid laws were made to be broken.
Oh yes so unfair for churches to follow the same rules as other non-profits.
its an unjust law in that church should NOT be tax exempt.....
Hate to tell you this hawaiiguest, but churches are not the same as "other non-profits" as you claim.
Sorry, but history is against you on this one, son.
You lost the argument, get over it.
Section 501(c)(3) applies to churches and other not-for-profit charities.
Every once in a while someone on these boards will try to convince you that our country was founded on Christianity as if only Christians can hold the kind of values that are built into our Const!tution. Well, we know that several of the important ratifiers and even designers of our Const!tution were Deists – some of them attending Christian church regularly, and some, not so much. The important thing is that the designers and ratifiers of the Const!tution felt it was very important for there to be a separation of church and state. And although they didn't call it as such in the First Amendment, the language of that text and their other writings are pretty clear. Here are some of my favorite writings from some of the key founders of our country.
James Madison (deist who sometimes attended Anglican church) (who became our 4th President, he is hailed as the Father of the Const!tution)
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, supersti tion, bigotry, and persecution.
–A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, 1785
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?
–A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of VA, 1795
Thomas Jefferson (deist)(who became our 3rd President, he was the key author of the Declaration of Independence)
Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
We have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.
–Speech (as POTUS) to the Virginia Baptists (1808)
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
–Letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802)
and then of course we have these clarifying moments in history:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
–from Article 11 of its treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797
I also like to include something Senator John F Kennedy said on Sept. 12, 1960, just prior to his Presidential election:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute
A wholehearted thank you. Too many people forget that folks like Madison were disciples of the Age of Reason, and recognized our inherent freedoms. While Jefferson also believed in a divine power that he chose to call God, he did not believe that people should live their lives as blind followers of any Church, Pastor, etc. If you ever read about the elections of 1796 and 1800 you would think he was the predicted AnitChrist the way some of the church leaders of his day spoke against him.
Here's the funny part about that "wall of separation" that Jefferson wrote about *in a private letter*.
It took one hundred and fifty years to start building that law.
If it was set up or intended way back then, why did it take liberal judges 150 years to start
putting it together?
why did it take so long to SILENCE a church?
r u new to history? u talk about the Roman Catholic Church u and your family lose their lives
U.S. v. Reynolds – 1878: "coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured." (Court's reference to Jefferson's separation language in the Danbury Baptist's letter.) This case was based in a challenge to a Federal law banning polygamy. Reynolds claimed it was his religious duty as a Mormon to marry multiple wives. The Court noted that although the State cannot force beliefs or compel support for beliefs (via taxes, etc), the State can regulate actions. This is still very much at the heart of 1st Amendment law today.
One reason we only see these cases much later is due to incorporation of the Bill of Rights under the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, but it was only later that courts began to interpret this Amendment as requiring individual states comply with rights/prohibitions contained within the Bill of Rights.
Prior to extending these Const-itutional protections to states (and thereby Federal court jurisdiction), many of the cases would have been handled in state courts. As history readily shows, protecting minority interests (religious or otherwise) in state courts was not particularly effective even though the protections were enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Still, if one were to investigate, they would find plenty of case law from individual states adopting separation principles early on when the individual state had an equivalent establishment clause in the state const-itution. For example Turpin v. Locket (1804) and Tarent v. Taylor (1815), two Virginia cases which found unconst-itutional legislative acts vesting lands to the clergy of Episcopal Church (the former state church of Virginia following the Church of England).
Your legal history is about as flawed as your understanding of evolution (not to mention your various Nuremburg defenses for the morality of Biblical narratives demanding child slaughter)...
Hey, redzoa: you are so wrong it's laughable.
Those court decisions have zero bearing on what we're talking about.
It wasn't until much, much later that the liberal courts began their push to remove
God from public places like schools and courts.
The so-called "wall of separation" is a 20th century concoction.
You lost this argument, son.
Clearly I don't have a clue. I ignorantly provided you with a Supreme Court decision from 1878 which expressly stated Jefferson's separation of church and state was the intent of the 1st Amendment. Your 150 yrs statement was factually incorrect from the start...
I then explained the legal doctrine of incorporation under the 14th Amendment and why 1st Amendment law was not generally viewed as applicable to individual states, thereby explaining the relative rarity of Establishment Clause cases in the Federal judiciary until the 20th century. And then I ignorantly cited two Virginia cases from 1804 and 1815 demonstrating that the state courts, composed of Founding generation judges, viewed State involvement with religious matters as impermissible entanglement/endorsement – the underlying principle of church/state separation doctrine.
Did you research these cases? Did you read the decisions? Of course not. You've no interest . . .
Courts did not remove "God" from schools. Courts removed official school led prayer and official endorsements of the Ten Commandments and King James Bible. But again, you are factually incorrect with respect to the timing. Weiss v. Dist. Board (1890) was one of many state cases targeting official school endorsement of prayer/KJV Bible in a long line leading up to Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School Dist. v. Schemp (1963) wherein the SCOTUS finally established these endorsements as impermissibly violative of the Establishment Clause via 1st Amend. incorporation via the 14th Amend. A similar lineage exists for official State endorsement of the 10 Commandments (although these cases have established circ-umstances where their display is not a per se violation). But then, how can my case cites compare to your martyr-complex? Clearly, no presentation of actual legal history could dissuade you from a position which is wholly disconnected from any actual understanding. The irony is of course that you would immediately cry foul should verses from the Koran, the book of Mormon, etc, be endorsed by a public a school, either by daily recitals over the PA system or hung prominently on the walls. On what grounds would you base a legal challenge here? Hmmm....
True to form, you declare victory of an "argument" relating to a fictional legal history which exists only in your mind. I wonder if you even know that although the phrase "separation of church and state" came from Jefferson, the principle was articulated by Roger Williams and others in the 17th century? I wonder if you recognize that this concept of a distinction between civil government and religious practice has a lineage which stretches back to Luther, St. Augustine and to Christ himself? No. Of course you don't...
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.