Sunday Scofflaws: It’s Time For The IRS To Crack Down On ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’

We’ve had enough education. It's time for the IRS to enforce the law.

As many of you know, on Sunday more than 1,000 pastors nationwide took part in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual event sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to encourage clergy to openly violate federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates.

AU staffers spent the holiday weekend fielding media calls about this. The Rev. Steven Baines, AU’s assistant field director for religious outreach, talked to several reporters.

I especially liked Baines’ comment to the Tyler, Texas, Morning Telegraph: “If we politicize from the pulpit, we’re turning our houses of worship into Super PACs.”

It’s always difficult to tell exactly what goes on during Pulpit Freedom Sunday. Some of the pastors taking part merely discuss political issues, which the law allows. It’s unclear how many leap over the line by telling their congregants who to vote for or vote against.

Clearly some do that. Americans United has already received reports of it and will be following up this week.

You can help. Send any evidence of pulpit politicking to AU at americansunited@au.org or mail it to us at 1301 K St. N.W. Suite 850E, Washington, D.C. 20005. Remember, we can’t act on hearsay. Solid evidence is best – a newspaper article reporting on an endorsement, a church bulletin that contains a recommendation on how to vote, a church website posting, etc.

The Internal Revenue Service is charged with enforcing this law. I’ll concede that the agency hasn’t been very aggressive. For too long, the IRS has put the emphasis on education, not enforcement.

We’ve had enough education. The pastors who took part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday have already been “educated.” They are choosing to ignore the lesson. They know what they are doing is wrong and are flagrantly violating the law. What more does the IRS need?

The IRS needs to hear from the American people on this. If you have evidence of a house of worship engaging in pulpit politicking, use this form to report it to the IRS. Don’t worry that AU may have already filed a report or someone else might have beat you to it. Multiple reports are good. They let the IRS know that the American people don’t support pulpit politicking and want to see our laws enforced.

The ADF says it wants to see this matter in court. I’m confident that the organization will lose that case, just as TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice lost a church politicking case in the 1990s.

Why the hold-up? To the IRS I say: You know what happened this weekend. It’s time to get the ball rolling by stripping some of these politicking churches of their tax-exempt status.