Remember that big stink that pastors promised to make in response to the IRS crackdown on political speech in church? It already happened. And you probably missed it – even if you were in church.
An estimated 30 pastors took to the pulpit on Sunday to talk politics in what was dubbed “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” The effort was meant to challenge the IRS on rules governing tax exempt organizations which place restrictions on political speech.
Not surprisingly, Rev. Wiley S. Drake who first endorsed Huckabee, and later encouraged his followers to pray that the opposition to his endorsement dropped dead, participated. With Huckabee out of the race, Drake suggested that voters support him… Apparently, his is running with Alan Keyes on the American Independent Party ticket. He remarked to less than 50 followers at his service:
I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors. I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don’t like that, too bad.
Ah, I see he still “gets it.”
Not only did he endorse himself from the pulpit (nice) but he went on record as opposing Obama, saying, “According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama. Mr. Obama is not standing up for anything that is tradition in America.”
Despite efforts to make it a widespread nonpartisan protest against what many pastors view as censorship, the movement fell flat. In addition to small numbers of participants and little media coverage, most of the endorsements were predictably conservative. The Associated Press reported that Pastor Luke Emrich of Wisconsin spoke to about 100 followers to tell them that he was voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin. Indeed, most of the 30 pastors who endorsed a specific candidate urged their followers to vote for McCain/Palin.
The protest was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, which describes itself as a legal alliance “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth, through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.” The Fund claimed that they had received hundreds of offers to participate but chose only a few to speak on Sunday.
While the protest garnered little in the way of attention, those who might end up being affected the most are surprising: the lawyers. In response to the protest, three high profile attorneys have sent a letter to the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility asking for an investigation into the attorneys at the Fund for “inducing churches to engage in conduct designed to violate federal tax law in a direct and blatant matter.” Attorneys are prohibited from encouraging or assisting taxpayers with avoiding or breaking federal tax law. Some tax professionals have suggested that the Fund’s lawyers may be subjected to sanctions for their role in the protest.
Participants in the protest, however, are hoping for their day in court to challenge what they consider improper restrictions on their rights. Assuming that they get their day, expect it to fail. There has never been a successful challenge to this rule for a reason – most taxpayers do not wish to subsidize with their tax dollars a pastor’s “right” to impose their political beliefs on any other person. But keep watching… this could get interesting!