October 8th, 2012
02:20 PM ET

Pastor heralds success of endorsing from the pulpit, challenging IRS

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.”

- Dan Merica

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

soundoff (581 Responses)
  1. ganha dinheiro

    http://www.patraoonline.com ganha dinheiro http://www.patraoonline.com/

    July 13, 2013 at 6:54 am |
  2. YoozYerBrain

    Hateful anti-American people! Tax em! Then force em to teach science in their houses of darkness and fear!

    "Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies." [Thomas Jefferson]

    "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma." [Lincoln]

    "Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn't killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?" [Arthur C. Clarke]

    Fight these religious bas tards, they are AGAINST the USA!!! Enemies!! Talibani!!

    November 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  3. Clyde

    Hey, IRS, take away these churches' tax exempt status. It'll help eliminate some of the national debt! OBTW, I'm a Christian and I'm voting for Obama! Why would I vote for Romney, a man who is going to torpedo the middle class be taking away our tax exemptions?!

    November 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  4. Christian

    I support this.
    Places such as planned parenthood are extremely political, and do not pay taxes. Rather, we, as taxpayers, pay for it to function. We, as taxpayers, pay for others to receive abortions. A church is hardly at fault to make things such as this known, and who endorses them. If anything, I feel as if it is an obligation to it's members to state the facts. People say that Christians force their beliefs on people... is planned parenthood, and places such as that, not forcing their beliefs on us? We are forced to pay these taxes that go for things against what we believe in. This pastor did what he felt morally called to do. I commend him.

    October 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • mr. reality

      You are an idiot. Planned Parenthood pays taxes. silly christian fool

      November 6, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • tallulah13

      Planned Parenthood provides birth control, cancer screening and prenatal care for women who can't afford it otherwise. Abortions are just a small part of it. Planned Parenthood is tangibly beneficial to women. No wonder some christians hate it so much.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  5. JaneS

    Endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is one of the last straws in this rabid power hungry quest of the right wing extremists to rule the country. And they dare twist the arms of easily influenced Christians into obeying and following. It sickens me.
    A person's vote is private! I hope your congregations walk out on you when they realize they're being maipulated. What comes to mind is Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple in anger. "For it is written my house shall be called a house of prayer." Shame!

    October 11, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • BG

      This pastor needs to suffer the consequences of violating the Johnson Amendment; however, Democratic candidates and politicians have appeared in churches for decades. It is hardly a new phenomenon.

      October 15, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Rationalism is Healthy for Children and Living Things But Is Unhealthy For Superst tion

      Interestingly, there is no record of said event happening from the scribes of the Temple or among any other Hebrew or rabbinical writings of that time. Pharisees didn't write about it.

      No third-party confirmation of such a noteworthy event? Nothing...cuz there was no jesus...ever. Just another fairy tale...free yourself from the darkness.

      November 6, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Rationalism is Healthy for Children and Living Things But Is Unhealthy For Superst tion

      I was referring to this statement in my previous post;

      "What comes to mind is Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple in anger. "For it is written my house shall be called a house of prayer." Shame!"

      November 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 10, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • 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 10, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • JS

      prayer made in a relationship with G-d does change things...

      prayer is communicating with G-d as He is Our Father

      prayer as a formality has NO effect, as you don't know the Heart of the Father, except that you may assume you do...

      October 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  7. bananaspy

    Could I please shift my taxes from the church to something useful like.. science? Our education system is quickly becoming the laughing stock of the first world countries because we are too busy trying to convince school children that evolution isn't real, thus trying to negate centuries of hard work in multiple fields of science. And I don't foresee the conservatives rooting for this change anytime soon.

    October 10, 2012 at 2:42 am |
  8. Dani3l

    I think it is past time to end tax exempt status for churches, or to allow contributions to churches to be tax deductible.

    October 10, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  9. Fred

    Apparently you guys slept through school. One of the big points that the evolutionists love to tout is the idea
    that life began from primordial ooze (they don't know what's in it, where it happened, or how it happened) and
    from there evolved into all the different living things on this planet.
    This is why I hate debating with grade school dropouts.

    October 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Unfortunately for your post, you're not talking about evolution, but abiogenesis. You may want to learn at least the correct term before you call others grade school dropouts.

      October 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • mr. reality

      You are so completely wrong it hilarious! Keep working on that GED

      November 6, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  10. Adrienne

    I think that preachers should avoid recommending or endorsing specific candidates for public office even though they should have the right to do without jeopardizing their tax status if nonreligious nonprofit organizations can do so. However, for other reasons, I don't think this is a good idea. Pastors are obligated to preach the Bible and its perspective on social and political issues of our day. Congregants will make up their own minds how and whom they should vote for. This seems to be accepted by most as long as the views expressed by the pastor are in agreement with their own. If the pastor expresses a viewpoint with which one disagrees then those individuals want to see the tax exempt status of that church revoked. Dishonest to the core.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Priyanka

      This would be funny if it weren't so sad.At our church, I have wsnsetied an entire service in the pre-teen department that consisted 99% of psycho-babble. During a send-off for a beloved small group leader, not once did the head of the department mention God. I kept waiting, but it didn't happen. Weird.No wonder so many youth go to secular college and move away from God. They have no roots in their faith. And truly? That comes from home, not from church. Church should be there to support, but if we as parents don't teach our kids about God at home, we have failed.

      November 8, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  11. notenough

    This is an easy one. If a church wants to get political let them. But take away their tax exempt status. If churches start electing presidents it puts religious freedom at risk.

    October 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Adrienne

      Why does it put religious freedom at risk? What puts religious freedom at risk is telling pastors what they can say from the pulpit but not telling those from secular nonprofits what they can say from their "pulpit". There are so many secular nonprofits who are active in the political process without jeopardizing their tax exempt status. Dishonest.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Adrienne

      Churches don't elect presidents. They do have a right to be heard in the public square of public opinion. Individuals should be exposed to viewpoints not only from secularists but also those of faith. Church members are also citizens and also have a right to speak out and be heard. They do not elect presidents but have as much right to be heard as anyone else.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • fintastic

      @Adrienne.................. "There are so many secular nonprofits who are active in the political process without jeopardizing their tax exempt status."

      A church is a religious organization, secular nonprofits are not. Separation of church and state.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  12. nowayjesus212

    I have no problem with them voicing their views. Let them do it, and while they're doing it let them pay their taxes, like they're supposed to. I have to pay mine. It makes no sense why they get to dodge paying taxes.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Adrienne

      Let Planned Parenthood pay their taxes. They are outspoken and active politically.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • fintastic

      Planned Parenthood is not a religious organization. Do you not get it?

      November 6, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  13. lookbothweis

    A church wants to get political? Fine, take away the tax break, and I have no problem with this.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Adrienne

      If you want to take away tax exempt status of churches for expressing their views, then you also need to do the same for secular nonprofits who are outspoken in their political activism.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Fred

      Sorry, dude, you can't muzzle the church.
      You can cry, you can scream, you can sit and spin for all I care, but
      you can't muzzle pastors and dictate what they can and can not preach.

      October 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The pastors muzzled themselves – they voluntarily agreed to the requirements of their tax exempt status.

      October 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  14. Atheist Hunter

    Whatsup Atheists. Got a good one for you!

    October 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      You are an ignorant sh1t

      October 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Ann

      Read the article you cited. Unimpressive. The doctor was already a christian before his experience, so he was just seeing what he expected to see. Also, although the experience felt like it went on for a long time, it could have just occurred in a flash as he was entering or leaving his coma. We've all had dreams that seem to go on for hours, even though we weren't sleeping that long.

      It's certainly an interesting experience that he had, but it's hardly proof.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • JS

      Ann, I read the account of the doctor on a few different sites...he was on skeptico and did not mention G-d at all...it was all about a consciousness existing outside the brain...

      On other sites he refers tot the Love of G-d that he felt in an overwhelming way.

      He relates, that as a scientist he tried in various ways to explain what he experienced in ways that did not deny his scientific beliefs. He found however that he could not. His book comes out on Oct 23. I guess that is the best way to know more on what he says...

      October 11, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • fintastic

      "His book comes out on Oct 23"

      Oh, he has a book....... why did I see that coming.

      November 6, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • YoozYerBrain

      I was wiped out of existence twice (lightning, and a car wreck) and I came back. I can tell you when the great switch is thrown, the room goes dark if you're really out. There is no way to describe that nothingness unless you come back to have something to contrast it to. I also did a lot of active research into psychology, psychiatry, physiognomy, biology, chemistry, etc, and my conclusion isn't based on hearsay, although it is only ONE anecdotal piece of evidence.

      That evidence leads me to conclude that brain chemistry is responsible for "reality" and when you shut that down, all the other stuff shuts down too, including out-of-body, extra-consciousness, god, heaven, whatever, all gone. All of your experiences, gone. Know what that knowledge gave me? Comfort. Freedom. Rationality. Not fear, although for some it would bring fear I am sure.

      I am an atheist who was spiritual and "hunted for god" all of his life and came to the correct answer, ie no god, through experience, research and open-mindedness. God is an ever-receeding pocket of ignorance. Free yourself from the fear. YoozYerBrain, before it's too late!

      November 6, 2012 at 1:38 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.