For years now, the biggest IRS scandal may have been how churches that pay no taxes in return for not endorsing political candidates were breaking those rules openly but receiving no punishment at all. (Some pastors even sent the IRS videos of their sermons.)
When we allow the government to decide what is said from the pulpit, we are ceding control of what is God’s to “Caesar.” Congregations and a church’s leadership can certainly tell pastors they don’t want names of candidates spoken from the pulpit, but that is very different from government censorship. No government agency should condition tax-exempt status — a status churches have been constitutionally guaranteed since our founding — on the surrender of cherished First Amendment rights.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday takes place this weekend, but thanks to this summer’s legal settlement between the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the IRS, the government agency says it will finally enforce its own rules. Let’s hope they do that.
Meanwhile, FFRF isn’t letting up on its criticism of churches that break the law:
“Churches and their pastors are not above the law. Ministers who claim to be moral leaders should realize it’s not only illegal for tax-exempt groups to endorse political candidates, it’s unethical. It’s an abuse of the public trust,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder.
FFRF Co-President Dan Barker added, “Pastors are free to endorse from the pulpit, but then their churches need to give up their tax exemption.”
If you know of any churches that are endorsing or opposing candidates, the FFRF is asking you to let them know about it.
There’s just no good reason churches should be able to get away with what no other non-profit is allowed to do. For too long, the government has turned a blind eye to what is said inside of churches, even when that speech crossed the line. The IRS promised to pay attention to violations in exchange for FFRF dropping its lawsuit against the agency. It’s time for churches to be held accountable for what their leaders say.
(Portions of this article were posted earlier)