Not-So-Civil Disobedience: Pulpit Freedom Sunday and Voter Coercion

By Andrew Seidel
FFRF Staff Attorney

AndrewSeidelThis past Sunday, Oct. 7, was “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a day when rogue pastors around the country intentionally dare the IRS to enforce the U.S. tax code by endorsing political candidates. This year almost 1,600 pastors participated. The Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) organizes the charade using a portion of their $35 million annual budget

As 501(c)3 non-profit entities, churches are tax exempt. This exemption is not a constitutional right but a privilege. The government is willing to check its constitutional power to tax 501(c)3’s, but in return requires that charitable, religious, and educational groups receiving this substantial public subsidy abstain from endorsing political candidates. Churches are able to endorse all the political candidates, they just have to pay taxes if they do so.

The ADF and its greedy pastors want their privilege, but shun the responsibility that comes with it. The day is meant to taunt the IRS into enforcing the exemption/endorsement dichotomy. If the IRS acts, the ADF will sue claiming the rule violates the freedom of speech.

There are two good reasons for this rule. First, as tax exempt speech, 501(c)3 speech is effectively taxpayer subsidized. Second, churches wield inordinate power over their congregants. ADF and its preachers wish to convert that religious power into political power.

The government requires the non-endorsement responsibility because tax-exempt entities are technically taxpayer-subsidized. We, the public, pay more taxes because tax-exempt organizations pay none. “When the Government grants exemptions or allows deductions all taxpayers are affected; the very fact of the exemption or deduction for the donor means that other taxpayers can be said to be indirect and vicarious ‘donors.’” Bob Jones Univ. v. United States, 461 U.S. 574, 591 (1983).  

The second and more pernicious aspect of church-politicking is the power that religious leaders hold over their followers. Like the “Alliance Defending Freedom,” “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is an Orwellian name, right up there with the “Ministry of Truth” and the “Ministry of Love.” In 1984, the Ministry of Love coerces Oceania citizens to love Big Brother through fear and torture and threats of the same. Indeed, in the final sentence of the book the Ministry is victorious, “He [Winston Smith] loved Big Brother.” We can’t be sure that Orwell was alluding to Christianity, but every time I read the novel or the phrase I am reminded of Jesus’ ministry of love—“for God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish,” but everyone else is tortured for eternity in Hell.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is not about freedom, it is about power. The ADF and these pastors are seeking the power to coerce a flock into voting for a particular candidate. Imagine yourself in the pews last Sunday, a devout believer, listening to a man you believe is speaking with the voice of God. He tells you that eternal torture awaits all those who vote for the “wrong” candidate. He quotes biblical verses describing Hell as a burning wind, a fiery oven, an unquenchable fire, a furnace of fire, an eternal fire, a judgment by fire, and an eternal punishment. It is not the pastor, but God commanding you to vote for candidate X.   Disobey and you end up on wrong end of Jesus’ Ministry of Love.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is meant to increase the power of churches. It allows that churches to pressure — blackmail is an appropriate term — their adherents to vote a certain way. The next step is megachurches promising political candidates thousands of votes in return for a few million dollars for a “faith-based initiative.” (Incidentally, under the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1971) voter intimidation and coercion are illegal. Even attempting to coerce or intimidate a person into voting a certain way is a violation of the Act.)

It is time for the government to decide. The current policy of not enforcing the tax code on politicking preachers not only legalizes, but also subsidizes, electoral fraud and coercion of the worst kind. Either enforce the law and bring down the hammer on these churches or, and I prefer this alternative, tax the churches.


#49 - Bob Winckler said on October 10, 2012
#50 - Harold Nemecheck said on October 10, 2012
A church that becomes politically active needs to lose their tax exempt status and be taxed at the highest corporate rate possible!!!! Take them on NOW!!!!!!!
#51 - pachu said on October 10, 2012
They just want the government to sue then they can claim persecution, blame the liberals. THey don't care about people, just care about their big donors. Bunch of hypocrites.
#52 - Mark Washburn said on October 10, 2012
There should not be any tax exempt status for religion. Clearly it is abused by many. We need more revenue and this is a way to get it which will level the playing field.

#53 - Herb Davis, Jr. said on October 10, 2012
End the charade...either enforce the law or tax them. The pressure on the believers is something they will acknowledge and many would not fight taxation. With most electable leaders pandering to some sort of diety there is no chance to tax the law!
#54 - jamile said on October 10, 2012
Any church allowing its pastor to endorse a particular candidate should loose their tax exempt status for everything, including the parsonage credit and property tax.

Even if there is no rogue pastor, the parsonage credit and property tax credit need to be done away with.
#55 - Ben Chung said on October 10, 2012
Thank God for you people. It is time for the religious organizations to pay taxes. It is biblical. Thanks once again!
#56 - Stuart said on October 10, 2012
As is usually the case - I agree with the line FFRF has taken but the bigger question is whether either of the political parties is "honest" enough to take up the challenge ... in an election year.
#57 - Robert Allen said on October 10, 2012
Thanks Andrew Seidel for writing this piece - which goes to prove that ALL Churches SHOULD be taxed because of the THEISTIC PROPAGANDA that they spread.

I don't know if the FFRF has enough funds to go after these LAW BREAKERS or not. I'm currently unemployed thus don't have any extra funds to contribute for this cause.

However, I do believe that the IRS would be responsible to legally go after ALL LAW Violators once the IRS becomes informed that the law violators exist. I believe that this requirement for the IRS would be embodied within a section of law that requires government agencies to perform "due diligence" in enforcing those areas that they are mandated to enforce.

Thus, as soon as the IRS becomes informed of various law violators, I believe that the IRS would be required to enforce the law - thus private citizens would not be required to expend any funds to make sure that the law finds enforcement.

I believe that there is another body of law that requires specific government employees to perform their legally mandated duties, thus, if as an entity, the IRS would not pursue these law violations, then individuals within the IRS organization could be required to enforce the law.

Again, this should not require the private public to expend funds to compell individual government employees working within an agency, to act within the law.

Of course, I may have a false sense of the law in all of these orientations that I express above. If so, never mind.
#58 - Mr. dana wichmann said on October 10, 2012
It only takes a few to ruin it for everyone.

So let the proselytizing begin!
#59 - MarkFarris said on October 10, 2012
Churches are selling a faulty product and should be taxed and fined for confusing youth with bronze age mythology. Forget the spiritual spin on the Pew poll placing "none" at about 20%. Within another election cycle we will represent one in four of the electorate and we better come together as an electoral block so we can start throwing the Fundie loons out of office. Those are the wizards who concoct the religious poison slipped in the social stew.
#60 - Mr. dana wichmann said on October 10, 2012
It only takes a few to ruin it for everyone.

So let the proselytizing begin!
#61 - Ed-words said on October 11, 2012
Unfortunately,however this turns out,
pastors can still 'spread the word'
privately. Their flock will get the
message one way or another.
#65 - vel said on October 11, 2012
aww, DB. It's always great to see a Christian be so intolerant, hateful and foul-mouthed while invoking freedom of speech. It's a pity so many people have suffered and died in order that you *can* speak your mind and show just how small it is. But, I am indeed grateful for that consitutional right since it allows me to know there are people like you still around, trying to spread lies.

It's also hysterical to see you insist that the FFRF should "operate somewhere in a communist country". You see, DB, big "C" communist countries control their people. They try to enforce a way of thinking. And this is *exactly* what theocrats like you want, to force people to believe in or at least pretend to believe in, your version of your religion. Just like the Soviet Union, you tell lies about how great your religion is and how people will be rewarded if they just stay in the system. And just like the Soviet Union your claims fail. You have no more evidence that Christianity is real as opposed to say Islam or that your version of Christianity (hmmm, rather like the Westboro Baptists isn't it?) is any more valid than the United Church of Christ who have no problems with many of the things I'm sure you rail against, all certain that your god obeys you and believes just like you do. I'm also guessing you are the usual anti-gov't tea partier who is sure taking money from others and the gov't is ever-so wrong, but gee, when he can take from others to support his church, you can hardly get in line quick enough. Such silly hypocrisy, DB.

I'm sure you'll use the usual "but but churches contribute so much to the community". Well, then dear DB, why does my community have at least 10 pages of churches in the yellow pages and the local mission *still* has to beg for money?

Both repressive governments and religions depend on fear, greed and hate to keep their people in line. You depend on it.
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