Pastors v. IRS: How will ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’ resonate with Uncle Sam?

Sep 21, 2012

Supreme Court Hears First Amendment Case On Protests At Military Funerals

Jacob Phelps, grandson of Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court while justices heard oral arguements in Snyder v. Phelps, which tests the limits of the First Amendment, October 6, 2010 in Washington, DC. Albert Snyder sued the Westboro Baptist Church after his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006 and members of the church held signs and demonstrated outside his funeral. The church and its members preach that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are punishment for Americans’ immorality, including tolerance of homosexuality and abortion. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If you’re paying attention during your church’s sermon on October 7, you might just hear a presidential endorsement instead of the scripture reading. More than 1,000 pastors backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom have agreed to deliberately challenge a 1954 tax code amendment that prevents tax-exempt organizations like churches from making political statements.

Members of the group are frustrated with the perceived infringement of the first amendment right to free speech by the federal government claiming that the pastors, not the IRS should decide what’s said from the pulpit. In order to take the challenge to court, the pastors will give their politically charged sermons on October 7 or “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” and record them, which they then plan on sending to the IRS. The IRS has threatened some pastors with revocation of their churches tax-exempt status in the past, but many of them say they are empty threats and are ready to take the matter head on.

Is there a moral conflict between a pastor’s sermon and political endorsement? Do they pastor’s have a right to free speech in any arena or should they exercise moral hazard with something as heavy as religion?

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