Political campaign intervention by 501(c)(3) organizations is absolutely prohibited. Yet earlier this month, nearly 1,500 preachers nationwide banned together for the election-season ritual of political pulpit preaching that has been taking place since 2008.
Alliance Defending Freedom is a 501(c)(3) conservative group that “advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith” that organizes the event, which is aptly named “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” The participating preachers and other backers of the event argue the ban on political campaign intervention violates churches’ freedom of speech. They also argue that the law is vague and that unequal enforcement has led to preachers pulling back on their social commentary in case it is construed as political. One preacher explained, “[Church leaders] have an obligation to influence the government.”
Churches, along with all exempt organizations, should remember the Supreme Court’s admonition that exemption is granted as a matter of legislative grace. Thus, as opponents argue, if pastors want to endorse candidates, they can simply give up their tax exemption. As put by a representative from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that “protects the constitutional principle of the separation of state and church,” said churches that also want to engage in politics want to “have their cake and eat it too.”
The Freedom from Religion Foundation brought a federal lawsuit earlier this year over the lack of IRS action on church politicking. The group dismissed the lawsuit after the IRS assured the group that it has a procedure in place to investigate such issues. The IRS has not yet taken action against churches participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
Do you think pastors should be able to preach their political views from the pulpit without giving up the church’s exemption? (Try saying that five times fast.)