Pastors again dare IRS to enforce the law

FFRF, which was at the center of a high-profile lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service over illegal church electioneering, warned that the seventh-annual “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” that was held Oct. 5 deliberately incited church pastors into flouting the law. All 501(c)(3) nonprofits, including churches, are prohibited from engaging in partisan politicking in exchange for the privilege of tax exemption. FFRF’s federal lawsuit charged that political violations by churches were being selectively ignored. FFRF took the IRS to court in November 2012. After being given assurances this summer that the IRS has authorized procedures and “signature authority” to resume initiating church tax investigations and examinations, FFRF agreed to drop its suit.

FFRF criticized the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, for treating church pastors like pawns. ADF, which calls the event a “strategic litigation plan,” reported revenue of more than $50 million last year.

About 1,500 pastors intentionally violated the law this year, the Wall Street Journal reported. That’s similar to the number in 2013.

“Rogue pastors who endorse from tax-exempt pulpits are playing dirty pool,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-founder. Such an abuse creates an unfair election advantage. Donations to politicians are not tax-deductible, but donations to churches are. Imagine if tax-exempt churches — which don’t have to file financial returns with the government like all other 501(c)(3) groups must — were allowed to openly engage in partisan politics? Church congregations could become political machines, and political donations could be ‘money laundered’ through tax-deductible church contributions.”

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.”

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman’s order granting the joint motion for dismissal by FFRF and the IRS left open FFRF’s ability to renew its lawsuit if the IRS reverts to previous inaction.

Freedom From Religion Foundation