September 27, 2010; Source: Christian Broadcasting Network | In an era where “big government” has supplanted communism and fascism as the all-purpose public policy enemy, we might have suspected that pastors who don’t necessarily believe in the separation of church and state would challenge government regulation. This past weekend, some 100 pastors across the nation played a game of “chicken” with the Internal Revenue Service by taking to their pulpits to endorse political candidates.
This is the third Pulpit Freedom Sunday organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, which believes that IRS rules threatening the tax exemptions of religious institutions that engage in partisan electioneering are unconstitutional. ADF hopes that this will provoke a court case that can overturn the prohibition against electioneering from the pulpit that has been part of federal law since 1954.
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Of course, the Alliance Defense Fund doesn’t say that the purpose is to endorse candidates, but to allow pastors to exercise their First Amendment freedom of speech rights and “preach from their pulpits . . . about the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office”. Although the political opinions in organized religion are quite diverse and the ADF claims no predetermined political bent, the ADF seems to lean quite conservative. Among its founders is James Dobson of Focus on the Family and its board includes Marjorie Dannenfelser (Susan B. Anthony List, co-founder of Team Sarah, defending the values of the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin), Tom Rogeberg (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), John Rogers (Campus Crusade for Christ International), and Charles Pickering Sr. (former chairperson of the Mississippi Republican Party).
This year’s list of 100 pastors is up from 33 in 2008. Apparently the IRS has ignored ADF and the pastors in previous years, which denied the ADF of its hoped-for day in court to challenge the constitutionality of the electioneering ban. Televangelist Pat Robertson lost a case on this point in the 1990s, though he didn’t appeal it to the Supreme Court. The ADF and its 100 pastors are itching for a big time smackdown with the IRS which they hope will get the statute they see as so noxious knocked out of the ring.—Rick Cohen