This Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011, churches across the country will participate in an event that sponsors call “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” This event, organized and promoted by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Christian right legal group based in Arizona, encourages pastors to abuse their tax-exempt status and openly endorse or oppose candidates for office from the pulpit. The annual event violates federal tax law and church leaders would be wise to refrain from participating. ADF seeks to have churches violate the law so that they may challenge enforcement of the law in court.
IRS regulations specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited from “[participating in or intervening in]…any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” (Revenue Rul. 2007-41, 2007-25 I.R.B. (June 28, 2007).) While leaders of churches or religious organizations may express their opinions on political matters as individuals, they are precluded from making “partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization.” Id.
Last year, nearly 100 pastors participated in what FFRF calls “Pulpit Politicking Sunday.” The sponsors of this year’s event recently bragged, “none of the participating churches have had their tax exemption revoked.” With increased boldness by pastors, their illegal political activity may soon be challenged.
Not long after last year’s event, Pastor Brad Brandon of Berean Bible Baptist Church in Hastings, Minn., endorsed candidates from the pulpit and went so far as to distribute a handy endorsement sheet. FFRF requested a formal review by the IRS. The IRS has not disclosed whether any action was taken against the church, as agency investigations are confidential.
FFRF asks members of the public to report any abuses arising out of Sunday’s event. FFRF has a detailed FAQ regarding churches and political activity, which provides information on reporting violations.