Pastors to defy IRS on political endorsements

On "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," religious leaders will challenge IRS rules about tax-exempt groups

Published October 5, 2012 4:56PM (EDT)


This Sunday, around 1,400 pastors plan to make political endorsements in defiance of IRS laws about tax-exempt institutions, in an effort called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

From the Religion News Service:

"The IRS says tax-exempt organizations, or what they refer to as a 501(c)(3), are prohibited from participating in partisan campaigning for or against political candidates. Yet, despite what’s in the rules, the agency continues to struggle to do anything about those who defy the law."

The problems enforcing the law began in 2009, after a District Court ruling that halted investigations. The IRS had reshuffled the organization, so it was unclear who within the agency had the authority to investigate religious organizations for potential violations. The IRS was supposed to update the church auditing rules so it could restart investigations, but changes to the rules have been in limbo.

"Pulpit Freedom Sunday" has been a project of the Alliance Defending Freedom, formerly the Alliance Defense Fund, since 2008. The ADF is a Christian legal group that specializes in taking cases where they think "religious liberty" is at stake, most notably in defense of businesses or organizations that discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The participants in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" make a similar argument. “Every pastor and every church has the right to decide what their pastor preaches from the pulpit and to not have that dictated to them by the IRS,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the ADF, told the Religion News Service.

By Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at

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2012 Elections Alliance Defense Fund Pulpit Freedom Sunday Religion Religious Freedom