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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. Snow

    so these beacons of christian message.. judge the candidates and focus god's blessing on one of them? hmm, anyone see the problem with that? irony?

    October 5, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Jake

      Freedom and Christianity do not mix well. They are anathema to one another. These pastors (and their congregants) put their faith first and country second. Call them what they are:

      Traitors.

      October 5, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Mumuh

      I think your dream means that you think you're awesome, and your sucnobscious is afraid of being awesome, so your sucnobscious took the form of your dad being negative, probably because at some point in your childhood your dad once made you feel less than awesome, even though you always thought you were awesome. The awesome height of the pulpit and the awesomeness of your coffee mug was your conscious fighting your sucnobscious in an epic pillow fight to the death, which unfortunately, was won by your sucnobscious. But a tiny part of you still believed you were awesome, and by awesome, I mean George W. Bush cyborg. Because let's face it, a George W. Bush cyborg would be pretty awesome.

      November 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  2. Reality

    Only for new members:

    And now moving to the 21st century using 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 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Roco

    Since these pastors want to break the law, fine. It is time to take the tax-exempt status from all churches and treat them like a business. Every penny you raise shall be taxed. Speak politically all you want.

    October 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  4. glenda

    Oh my gosh, to be so perfect and of course, without sin!!! Thank God on judgement day, I'll have to answer to God for my sins, and not a pack of holier than thou, as- wipes.

    October 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  5. sally

    Of course these religious crazies will do anything since they are so desperate. Rummy pirate and Repubtards are embarrassing themselves at every opportunity. The latest thing is that now that the latest unemployment numbers look a little better, the Repubtards are accusing the Dept of Labor or "cooking the books". That's a laugh. The dept. of Labor has had a very strict set of procedures in place since before Reagan to ensure that there is no tampering with their data. Nice try Repubtards like General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Awww, don't like the numbers and wanna cry... awww..... sorry sport repubtards. Rummy pirate ship is going down FAST!

    October 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • Syou

      I couldn't agree more. Preachers make it sound like there is some hieddn meaning in the text that only those who know Greek and Hebrew can discover (shades of the medieval church and the Vulgate). Not to mention the fact that 99.5% of the time I hear a preacher say In the Greek this means what follows is both dead wrong and complete nonsence. Don't get me wrong I greatly value my knowledge of the languages. But the task of the preacher is to clarify God's Word in such a way as to invite the people into their own exploration.

      November 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Wiwie

      I have witnessed that fees for on-line dgeere experts tend to be a fantastic value. For instance a full Bachelor's Degree in Communication in the University of Phoenix Online consists of Sixty credits at $515/credit or $30,900. Also American Intercontinental University Online makes available Bachelors of Business Administration with a complete program feature of 180 units and a tariff of $30,560. Online learning has made obtaining your education been so cool because you may earn your dgeere in the comfort of your home and when you finish working. Thanks for all the tips I have learned through the website.

      November 10, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  6. Alan Piccard

    Let every Pastor have the freedom of speech...no problem. Just give up your tax exempt status and you can go for it.

    October 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  7. Pete

    The cults of the world are worried sick. The world is finally starting to see right throught hem and they are loosing their flock. STOP THE SPREAD OF MYTHS. STOP PRAYING TO AN INVISIBLE NOTHING!

    October 5, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • nope

      @pet...
      nope

      October 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
    • End Religion

      unfortunately we'll have quite a bit of zany church-crazed lunacy to deal with over the next 50-100 years as religion winds down. The churches will consolidate as people leave, winding up with a concentration of the craziest of the mental patients. They'll be more desperate for people to take them seriously. Hopefully the world will survive religion.

      October 5, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  8. PaulC

    One thing we don't need is a religious zealot running the country.
    I encourage those who feel a need for religious piety to control society to move to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Thailand, Indonesia, or Turkey.

    October 5, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  9. Peggy Smith

    There is seperation between church and state, and this is one of the reasons. If the pastor insist on preaching politics from the pulpit then that church should pay taxes and every church that breaks this law should pay taxes also. That would probably help with the dept, wouldn't you think? What I have read, heard and witnessed from these right wing fundamentalist pastors, is judgemental hyprocracy, believe what they believe or you will go to hell. Many of their flock will believe what they tell them. Its sad.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • PaulC

      well said. The church should stay out of gov. and the gov. should stay out of the church.
      I'm sure the pastor would cry to heaven if the gov. told the parishioners how to run the church.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  10. PaulC

    Give me the authority and I would revoke every one's tax free exemption.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  11. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Let's set this issue straight.

    With Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the 'Alliance Defending Freedom' has the ultimate goal to test section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code in court and repeal it.

    Superficially, this gives them the ability to endorse a candidate from the pulpit without losing their tax exemption as a church. But wait, there's more ....

    Since from Citizens' United we know that speech = money. So, if section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code is repealed, then churches and other non-profits can DONATE TAX-FREE MONEY to POLITICIANS.

    So the question to all you good t'thing believers is: "Do you want your gifts to do 'God's work' in your church to be funneled to campaigns to elect politicians, at your pastor's discretion?".

    (Remember free speech = money.)

    The question is really broader than that if other non-profits can get in the game. We've just redefined Super PACs. If you give money to a Super PAC – there's no tax deduction. Money given to a charity (church or non-profit) gets a tax deduction. Basically this means free money for politicians. The donor gets a tax deduction. The middle man gets that money tax-exempt and funnels it to the politicians.

    Do you really all think that "FREE MONEY FOR POLITICIANS" is what first amendment rights are all about???

    Presumably this was the kind of loophole that Section 501(c)(3) closed way back in 1954. Republicans apparently thought it was a good idea then.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  12. davidmerrill2

    Better off to just quit the game of being tax exempt!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DU6fxC5CXMg

    October 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  13. Steve from Texas

    These Paster DO NOT SPEAK FOR GOD.. they are men speaking for themselves trying to wrap it around their pulpit. God is not a Republican or Democrat.

    If they want to play politics, then they need to lose their Tax Exemption.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • nope

      @stev...
      nope

      October 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • .

      nope is a dope..

      October 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • nope

      @.
      nope .

      October 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  14. gene brady

    Run your m9outh politically, pay all back taxes and end all handouts from the Government they speak against. Another simple solution, were I President.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Ronald Regonzo

      Your prayers moved me attempt to give my dog a rim job after the Wednesday debate. Thank you for that. Romney / Ryan 2012

      October 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • .

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degnerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" deganerates to:
      "captain america" degnerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degnerates to
      "Bob" degnerates to
      "nope" degnerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degnerates to:
      "fred" degnerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert"

      This troll is not a christian. . .

      October 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • gene brady

      Religion kills Women and Children as well as Men. For what?

      October 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • truth be told

      A so called atheist steals a name on an anonymous blog and resorts to filth. What a surprise. So called atheists and fairies commit acts that would make a maggot gag.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!.! .

      October 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • PaulC

      The muslims pray too. Which is the right religion? Ask the voices.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • truth be told

      So called atheists and their conspiracy theories. One poster to all those ? After all no reasonable persons would oppose lies and filth so it must be all just one. They want proof for everything but freely accuse without any proof what so ever. Hypocrite.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • truth be told

      @paulc
      allah is not God. There is one God and thousands of idols. Do not study the fakes , study the genuine.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @tbt,

      so I'm guessing you are claiming 'ownership' to using a period as your handle.

      That's pretty funny. Bit like pot calling the kettle black there!

      By the way your second post where you say "One poster to all those ?" is accurate. The list of "x degenerates to y" post is clearly wrong. I'd like him to stop.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • truth be told

      On second thought I know I must provide evidence that a maggot can be gagged. Using a tiny spoon with which I often treat my maggots to cocaine I attempted to gag one of my sweetums. To no avail. I then tried to force my tongue down its throat. Well, it's with Jesus now.

      October 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Truth!

      Ok, if atheism is not healthy for children and other living things, how many wars were started in the name of atheism? Don't worry, I can wait...

      October 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Pete

      Hey Truth Be Told!...HOW DO YOU KNOW? You don't! "Alah" means "God" idiot! And the followers of "Alah" have been around thousand of years longer than Christianity. Try and educate yourslef. You may be enlightened by education instead of a novel that tells stories of a virgin giving birth to a dude who wears dresses, gives baths to his buddy Peter, and gives dinner parties for men only! And than dies and becomes alive again and floats up into the air...puleeze!

      October 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • truth be told

      So... good news and bad news. I was hit by a garbage truck and killed. Good news is there is a God. Bad news is I am exactly the type of asshole he warned against but I never realized it. Has anyone here ever had their fingernails removed with pliers? Hell sure is painful!

      October 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  16. Skid

    If you are going to go down that road then you can't vote for republicans either. There is no Christian vote again this year.

    Abortion or torture?
    Gay Marriage or Ayn Rand "Fark the poor" politics?
    End justifies the means political campaigns saying anything false or evil thing to win win win!!!

    Get up on that pulpit and decry one evil while ignoring another? Good luck with that sermon.

    October 5, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  17. griffbos

    I have no issue if churches want to get into the political ring that is fine but give up the speical tax status, if you want to play politics, that is why there is a ban and I am sure many local communioties woiuld love to start taxing these proprties to fund government.. but I am sure any attempt to pull thier speical tax status they will start crying............

    October 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  18. Imaehia

    2012 Elections #ChristiansDoBetter

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReeL-ZUk_y4

    October 5, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  19. @rocky ireland

    "Really someone answer me -At what point does a pastor give up his right to speak? When they pay dont pay taxes? Then 47% of Americans can't speak. This is lunacy. As an American I have the inalienable right to speak. I have the right to my religious practice. These are not mutually exclusive rights."
    .
    .
    .
    You don't understand the concepts here very well.......maybe this will help:
    Let's say "John Doe" is a pastor and a citizen, and GENERALLY has the right to free expression.
    The "generally" means that there ARE restrictions.
    The restriction that's relevant and material here is that a pastor at a pulpit, is clearly acting in the capacity of an agent of the organization (the church).
    By law, churches are nontaxable organizations that may not engage in political campaigning/endorsing/etc.
    By law, the pastor, when he is acting as the agent of a church (at a pulpit, for instance), is bound by the restrictions that bind the church.
    This is the same legal principle by which a cop or judge, as a private citizen, is free to disagree with some law, but when they are fulfilling their duties as agents of the courts, they are bound by the law and supposed to implement it without regard for their personal opinions.
    DO
    YOU
    GET
    IT????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

    October 5, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Pete

      ALL CHURCHES SHOULD LOSE THEIR TAX EXEMPT STATUS! PERIOD!

      October 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  20. RandyKC

    I think a lot of preachers confuse what they feel with what God says.

    October 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • Snopes concurs that...

      it is one in the same

      October 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • PaulC

      Very often it is the voices.
      Sadly the parishioners will follow him as a "man of God". Does anyone remember Jim Jones?

      October 5, 2012 at 7:03 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.