Dave Tombers is a retired police officer, former teacher, ex-Realtor, and past chairman of a large Christian school. Dave lives with his wife, 6 kids, and 2 dogs and has been writing articles for several years.
The number of pastors standing up for their right to preach from their pulpits on politics is surging.
They call a ban on such speech a â€œcultural myth.â€
In 2008, 35 pastors defied the IRS, which holds the position that church â€œorganizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.â€
The number of pastors boldly opposing the IRS rule grew to 539 in 2011 and is expected to be more than 1,500 on Oct. 7, during what organizers are calling â€œPulpit Freedom Sunday.â€
The pastors find support and instructions on participating at pulpitfreedom.org, and they are backed by a legal team at the Alliance Defending Freedom.
WND has learned that no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status, despite claims to the contrary by critics of Christians who speak out on important issues and candidates.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State says it has sent 60,000 letters to churches in an effort to tell pastors that the law requires them to stay out of politics.
The groupâ€™s position is that churches are only tax-exempt because of the 501(c)3 provision in the tax code, which has been revoked at least once since 1954.
That was the year Democratic Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson inserted language into a tax bill designed to restrict outspoken political opponents from using their nonprofits to campaign against him. Known as the â€œJohnson Amendment,â€ it enabled the IRS to become a watchdog of Americaâ€™s church pulpits.
â€œAny activity designed to influence the outcome of a partisan election can be construed as intervention,â€ the Americans United letter declares. â€œIf the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention, it can revoke the institutionâ€™s tax-exempt status or levy significant fines on the house of worship or its leaders.â€
The letter then recalls, â€œIn 1995, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of a Binghamton, N.Y., church for buying a full-page ad in USA Today opposing a 1992 presidential candidate.â€
The Alliance Defending Freedom contends the AU letter is misleading and disingenuous, explaining that the church in New York had its â€œdetermination letterâ€ revoked, not its â€œtax exemptâ€ status. The distinction is crucial, ADF told WND, because there was basically no effect on the church from this IRS action.
Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Americans Defending Freedom, told WND that churches donâ€™t need a determination letter from the IRS to be considered tax-exempt.
â€œIRS section 508(c)1 (a) automatically exempts churches, and no advance determination letter is necessary,â€ he explained.
He said that some churches get the letter anyway, but it is not necessary.
In essence, the IRS claims it has the ability to keep churches out of the political realm, while ADF insists that position isnâ€™t constitutional.
ADF noted that a scholar who studied the issue extensively concluded that the Johnson Amendment â€œis not rooted in constitutional provisions for separation of church and state.â€
â€œJohnson was not trying to address any constitutional issue related to separation of church and state; and he did not offer the amendment because of anything that churches had done,â€™â€ ADF said.
Pastors who participate in the special Sunday event send recordings of their sermons to the IRS, effectively throwing down the challenge to argue the free speech of ministers in open court.
â€œIt is important to note that in our opinion provisions of the tax code are unconstitutional,â€ says a letter from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal team. â€œSpecifically, any IRS attempt to censor a pastorâ€™s sermon from the pulpit is unconstitutional.
â€œThatâ€™s why Alliance Defending Freedom started Pulpit Freedom Sunday, to protect a pastorâ€™s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship or control.â€
ADF said: â€œAfter all, itâ€™s the job of the pastor and the church leadership not the IRS to decide what is said from the pulpit. No pastor should ever fear IRS censorship or punishment when he stands in the pulpit to preach.â€
In a conference call regarding the effort, Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio agreed that no church has ever lost its 501(c)3 status for teaching Bible principals.
Hagee says that every Sunday is â€œPulpit Freedom Sunday,â€ and itâ€™s time that pastors in this country â€œchoose truth over popularity.â€
Jim Garlow, a prominent figure in the Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement, said, â€œWe didnâ€™t receive tax exempt status as churches because we did a swap saying we would not speak out on governmental issues.
â€œWhat the government can tax it can control, and what it can control it can kill,â€ he explained.
About the Johnson Amendment, Garlow said Johnsonâ€™s chief aide later admitted that they didnâ€™t have churches in mind when the senator pushed the tax language through the Senate.
But, Garlow says, â€œThis became the first time government intruded into the pulpit in Americaâ€™s history.â€
WND attempted to get comment from Americans United but received no response.
Hagee said during a half-hour-long conference call, â€œThe evil day is not coming, the evil day is here.â€
He continued, â€œChristians are being trampled by the secular left.â€
He then urged pastors to get involved with educating their church members about biblical principles.
â€œDonâ€™t get confused with left or right, or Democrat or Republican, vote the Bible,â€ he said.
â€œGodâ€™s Word is against homosexuality and abortion. You know the party that is for those things, therefore you cannot support them,â€ he continued.
He said that he tells his church not to go into a voting booth as a â€œunion member,â€ or any other label, but to go into the voting booth with the Bible in mind.
He then had a word for Christians who donâ€™t show up to vote.
â€œFifty percent of evangelicals donâ€™t even vote. How insane is that?â€
Garlow said, â€œWe need to see a turn in this country in the next 30 days.â€
A short video about Pulpit Freedom Sunday:
ADF points out that before 1954, â€œthere were no restrictions on what churches could or couldnâ€™t do with regard to speech about government and voting, excepting only a 1934 law preventing nonprofits from using a substantial part of their resources to lobby for legislation.â€