Preachers who injected politics into their sermons this past Sunday weren't just speaking to their respective congregations. They were daring the IRS to pay attention to the seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
Preachers who injected politics into their sermons this past Sunday weren't just speaking to their respective congregations. Their messages were directed to the Internal Revenue Service, daring tax regulators to pay attention to the seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
The event, organized by The Alliance Defending Freedom, involved nearly 1,500 pastors intentionally violating "the law forbidding churches to engage in certain political speech," The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall). By proclaiming their views on political candidates from the pulpit, participating pastors hoped to spur the government to revisit what they consider to be unfair restrictions on sermon topics.
Under current laws, "churches registered as 501(c)3 nonprofits risk losing their tax-exempt status if they appear to endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit," the Journal explained.
The Alliance Defending Freedom's explanation of the event calls it a "strategic litigation plan." The document is filled with First Amendment language, as the organization discusses how current restrictions are not just inconvenient, but also unconstitutional.
"Through the courage of individual churches, freedoms of speech and religion will be restored to many more," the alliance proclaims.
However, as the Journal noted, participating churches may be in especially hot water this year, given that in July the IRS assured the event's top adversary, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, stricter enforcement of the ban on political speech in order to resolve a related lawsuit.
The foundation referenced that promise in its article about Sunday's seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, pledging to remain active in the debate about the place of political campaigning in American churches.
"So long as Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and any other electioneering by churches during this election season occurs, FFRF remains committed to seeking IRS investigations into this illegal activity," the organization explained.
Christianity Today's coverage of the event explored the public's growing support for religion in politics, drawing on a recent Pew Research Center study on the topic.
"While most Americans still believe churches should not be allowed to outright endorse candidates … one-third of Americans now agree that churches should be allowed to favor candidates," including a majority of religious "nones," Christianity Today reported.
Pew's study noted that increased support for conversations about politics within congregations might be a response to religion's loss of influence in American life. "Most people who say religion's influence is waning see this as a bad thing," the Pew report states.
Deseret News National's article on Pew's research explored this phenomenon, tracing its influence on issues beyond Pulpit Freedom Sunday, such as same-sex marriage and immigration debates.