Reports on Pulpit Freedom Sunday

This is a sample of some of coverage. This post will be updated.

Information on the Pulpit Initiative on ADF’s website

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AZ Republic – Sermon on the Stump: Pastors to violate IRS law
Today’s protest is being organized by the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defense Fund, an advocacy group made up of Christian lawyers. (Which sounds like an oxymoron on the scale of “business ethics,” “airline food” and “adult male.”) I spoke last week with Gary McCaleb, an attorney with ADF, about what the group is calling “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”  “This is an issue that needs to be addressed in federal courts,” McCaleb said. “Fifty-four years of censorship is enough.”

LA Times – Orange County pastors test the IRS rule against politicking
Two Orange County ministers were among dozens across the country taking politics to the pulpit Sunday in hopes of influencing the Nov. 4 presidential election . . . But Erik Stanley, Alliance Defense Fund senior legal counsel, disagreed. His group is prepared to defend the 1st Amendment rights of churches investigated for politicking. “If the 1st Amendment doesn’t protect controversial speech,” he said, “it protects no speech at all.”

Detroit Free Press – Ministers plan pulpit protest over endorsement law
On Sunday, 33 ministers around the country plan to break the law, endorsing presidential candidates during their sermons despite IRS rules prohibiting such endorsements for tax-exempt non-profits . . . “These churches actually hope that the IRS will come after them, and that it will set up a chance for litigation in federal court,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, the Arizona-based group organizing the pulpit protests . . . Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, advised churches to not protest. “I defend churches when the IRS investigates them,” he said. But he would never advise a church to deliberately provoke the IRS.

Washington Post – 33 Pastors Flout Tax Law with Political Sermons
“Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship. The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, ‘The point that the IRS says you can’t do it, I’m saying you’re wrong.’”

Minneapolis Star Tribune – Minnesota preacher backs McCain in sermon, challenging IRS rules
According to today’s Grand Forks Herald, Booth told his congregants Sunday, “We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out. The most righteous is John McCain.”

Washington Post  On Faith Blog – “A Mass Violation of Federal Tax Law”
The first person I spoke to about this is Eric Williams senior pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus Ohio. Pastor Williams . . .  He also asked the IRS to revoke the charitable status of the ADF and enjoin it from continuing to solicit churches to knowingly violate charities law.

The second is the lawyer Marcus Owens. Mr. Owens brings unique expertise to bear on this problem since he was employed by the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service (he also served as its director for ten years). On Sept. 9, Owens wrote a letter to the IRS’s Office of Professional Responsibility raising concerns about the Alliance Defense Fund’s proposed actions.

Baltimore Sun – Pastors take politics to the pulpit
Dozens of pastors across the country took politics to the pulpit yesterday in hopes of influencing the Nov. 4 presidential election and setting off a legal fight over the Internal Revenue Service‘s restrictions on church involvement in politics. While some pastors endorsed Republican John McCain during “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” others stopped short of explicitly recommending that worshipers vote for either McCain or Democrat Barack Obama. But they were not shy about raising politics in church.

IndyStar.com – Indiana pastor to take part in ‘Pulpit Freedom Sunday’
The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. plans to go before his congregation today in Northwest Indiana and tell worshippers that if they call themselves Christians, there is one major-party presidential candidates who shouldn’t get their vote . . . “The pulpit has become neutered,” he said. “This initiative restores the proper boundaries” . . . Pastors in black churches face congregations in which — according to recent polls — more than 90 percent of the faithful are supporting Obama’s candidacy.

Chicago Tribune – Wis. pastor shares his plan to vote for McCain
Pastor Luke Emrich prepared his sermon last week knowing his remarks could invite an IRS investigation. But he forged ahead anyway with his message: Thou shalt vote according to the Scriptures . . . “I can’t endorse everything, I can’t endorse all the policies,” Emrich said of McCain. “But friends, if we get the choice for life wrong, all the other rights and choices are just mere hypotheticals, right? You and I understand what it means to choose life.”

AP on Google News – Protesting pastors back candidates from the pulpit
The IRS said in a statement it is aware of Sunday’s initiative and “will monitor the situation and take action as appropriate.” The agency has stepped up oversight of political activity in churches in recent years after receiving a flurry of complaints from the 2004 campaign. The IRS reported issuing written advisories against 42 churches for improper politically activity in 2004.

Wall Street Journal – Partisan Sunday Sermons Test Federal Tax Laws
The Rev. Fran Pultro shrugged off federal laws restricting his role in partisan politics Sunday, telling 45 people at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway in Philadelphia that preserving conservative social values was of the utmost importance in this election. “As Christians it’s clear we should vote for John McCain,” said Mr. Pultro from the church’s stage. “He is the only candidate I believe a Christian can vote for.”

WorldNetDaily – Pastors to IRS: You can’t tell us what to preach
The ADF believes that pastors have a First Amendment right to speak on politics if they choose, and that by using its tax authority to limit pulpit content, it is the government, and not the preacher, who is violating the separation of church and state.