Personally I think any laws that forbid religious groups from getting involved in politics are unconstitutional per the 1st Amendment.
But the reason I am posting this article is because our government masters at the IRS seem to be hypocrites and don't enforce these laws which forbid tax-exempt entities from supporting political candidates.
Pastors group defies IRS ban on politics
Amy Julia Harris, California Watch
Updated 10:47 p.m., Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Larry Ihrig, pastor of Celebration Christian Center in Livermore, began his Sunday sermon with the issue on everyone's mind: the outcome of the presidential election.
"Now, some of you may glory in the result, but I know some of you are disappointed," Ihrig told the 100 members of his evangelical Bay Area church after election day.
Count Ihrig, who supported Mitt Romney, among the disappointed.
In the lead-up to the Nov. 6 presidential election, he was one of about 1,600 religious leaders around the country who talked politics from the pulpit, in an organized movement challenging a 1954 federal law that bans churches from supporting candidates during worship services.
The Pulpit Freedom Sunday movement, organized by a Christian legal group in Arizona called Alliance Defending Freedom, encouraged pastors to "preach a biblically based sermon regarding candidates and the election without fearing that the IRS will investigate or punish the church," according to the group's website.
Pastors across the country have posted videos on the Internet of their direct or thinly veiled political endorsements and sent letters to the Internal Revenue Service, daring the agency to revoke their tax-exempt status for political speech.
So far, nothing has happened.
'A spiritual issue'
"The intention of the separation of church and state wasn't the church's encroachment on government, but government's encroachment into the church," Ihrig said. "If I talk about an issue of the violation of biblical truth, then it ceases to be political. It's a spiritual issue."
The federal tax code says religious groups classified as tax-exempt entities are "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating" in any political campaign or making statements favoring or opposing "any candidate for public office."
But in the 58 years the law has been on the books, the IRS has revoked only one church's tax-exempt status for its involvement in politics, according to agency records.
"Churches, as tax-exempt entities, have received a very lucrative benefit," said Rob Boston, senior policy analyst with the nonpartisan group Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "One of the only conditions is not to intervene in partisan politics. That isn't too much to ask. Any church that really feels strongly could give up the tax exemption and be partisan and intervene in politics all day long."
It's unclear whether the IRS even investigates churches that appear to be violating the ban.
"There are lots of laws that aren't enforced," said Jesse Choper, a UC Berkeley law professor who specializes in church-state issues. "This is one of them."
$35 million budget
The group spearheading the pulpit movement, the Alliance Defending Freedom, says it aims to transform the legal system to reclaim America from "radical anti-Christian groups" and debunk "the myth of the so-called separation of church and state."
In 2010, the group had a budget of $35 million to pay 44 in-house lawyers to defend religious test cases around the country free of charge, according to tax documents filed with the IRS.
California is one of the most active states in the preachers' movement. On Pulpit Freedom Sunday, 142 pastors around the state weighed in on politics despite the law.
Some, like Tim Arensmeier of the Sonoma Valley Community Church in Sonoma, told their congregations not to support the Democratic Party. Arensmeier went through a checklist of political issues during his sermon: abortion, gay marriage, family values.
"How can you be a follower of Christ and vote for a candidate that does exactly what the Bible says you shouldn't do?" he said.
In the remote desert community of California City (Kern County), Samuel A.L. Pope Sr., pastor of Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church, raged against President Obama's energy policy, abortion rights stance and support of same-sex marriage.
"Barack Obama, that's who I'm talking about," Pope told his 40-member congregation in a sermon. "Don't vote for that man. He is not for you."
Looking to high court
But politics in the pulpit isn't just a Republican or Democratic issue. A Pew Research Center poll in October found that mentions of politics from the pulpit were evenly split between both major parties.
Organizers of Pulpit Freedom Sunday say they are deliberately thumbing their noses at the IRS in the hope of prompting a court case that could someday land before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"By doing this, we're showing the rest of the pastors in the country that they don't have to be afraid of any government limiting their political speech," said Chris Clark, pastor at the East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego. "You're going to see a lot more boldness from the pulpit."
That's what worries the Wisconsin-based nonprofit Freedom From Religion Foundation.
IRS sued for inaction
The organization filed a lawsuit against the IRS last week for failing to enforce political restrictions on churches and other religious organizations, calling the agency's inaction a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, according to court documents.
IRS spokesman David Tucker declined to say whether the agency investigates churches for politicking.
The only time the IRS stripped a church of its tax-exempt status was after the 1992 presidential election. The Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, N.Y., had placed full-page ads in newspapers asserting that Bill Clinton's positions on abortion and homosexuality went against the Bible. The IRS revoked the church's tax-exempt status and won a subsequent court challenge.
The last known IRS action against a church for political speech was in 2009. That year, the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minn., endorsed Republican congressional candidate Michele Bachmann, and the IRS ruled it had violated the law.
But the U.S. District Court in Minnesota overturned the IRS, finding that it didn't follow its own policy.
"Sooner or later, the IRS is going to have to act," Boston said. "If they don't, they're telling churches to do what they want. What's to stop churches from acting like PACs and being completely tax-exempt and political? That would be a disaster."
California Watch is a project of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org