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Pulpit Freedom Sunday

June 11, 2009

religious board guideSince 1954, Congress amended section 501(c)(3) to include a provision that prohibits charities from “intervening” in political campaigns.  Specifically, a Section 501(c)(3) organization must “not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.  Note, this does not include voter education of candidate forums, where the charity “equitably distributes”  information regarding the issues and candidates without evidence of bias towards any particular issue or candidate. For more on these rules go to chapter 4 of my Tax Exempt Toolkit (free publication).

Perhaps there has been no stronger testing of this limits of this provision then by Churches and various Religious Organizations.  It’s no secret that many people get their information and view points from sermons and speeches given by the ministers, priests, pastors, bishops, reverends, etc.  Thus, many believe that this prohibition restricts free speech.  This is exactly what prompted the Alliance Defense Fund (a legal alliance which is also a 501(c)(3)) to create Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

During Pulpit Freedom Sunday, pastors are asked to comment on political candidates.  Specifically pastors are asked to “… advise their congregation what Scripture says about today’s issues and apply those issues to the candidates vying for your vote..”

The first of such Pulpit Freedom Sunday was held on Sunday, September 28, 2008.  According to one report, some 33 pastors in 22 states took part in making candidate recommendations.  The fall-out is still ongoing.  News outlets from coast to coast reported on various pastors that delivered endorsements/recommendations of candidates during their sermons.

The IRS is currently investigating these pastors, but it is important to note that they have never disciplined a pastor who has violated this prohibition.  We will continue to follow the IRS responses to this.  I suspect that there will be some future sanctions/penalties levied against pastors violating these rules, which could lead to the ultimate show down on this issue – The Supreme Court.

To add more salt onto the wound, the Alliance Defense Fund has decided to do this again.  There will be a Pulpit Freedom Sunday, September 27,  2009.

Do you agree with the ADF that pastors/churches should be able to voice their opinions on political candidates?  Will your pastor/minister participate in this?  Let me know your thoughts.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Diamond Emory permalink
    June 11, 2009 4:35 pm

    Yes, I agree that pastors should be able to voice their opinions on political candidates. Most of the time, people in the pulpit are community leaders or activist; if they are good lay persons! It is not uncommon for lay person to interact with city and state officials who call upon them for counsel, may have served on boards or committees with or who are good friends.

    Politicians often come to churches to speak to congregations seeking voter approval. If my pastor is suppose to guide and direct me according to the word of God through all aspects of my life; family, marriage, money, child rearing, ethics, that includes politics.

    Pastors give their opinions. Some pastors believe one way while others believe another on various issues of divorce, abortion, and gay marriage. They express these opinions from the pulpit, doesn’t mean every member of the congregation agrees or approves. Politics will is no different. Sometimes people are confused in politics, or don’t have all the facts. We look to our pastors to “counsel” us, guide and direct us. Again, doesn’t mean, we’ll agree or follow. But we will have another perspective to consider.

    Let’s face it, if congregations did everything pastors told them to, tithing would be a non issue and charitable giving would be through the roof, recession or no recession. Now let the church say, “Amen!”

  2. theWolf permalink
    June 11, 2009 5:23 pm

    If I went to church, and I currently do not. I’d like for my pastor to leave politics out of his or her sermons. Once pastors start “recommending” political candidates, they become salesmen for politicians rather then representatives of god. I’m sure Jesus kept his focus on promoting his father then local and national politicians.

    Having said, I don’t agree with the law either. Pastors should be able to speak about what they want, I just wouldn’t be there to sit through it because I believe in separation of church and government.

    • Diamond Emory permalink
      June 11, 2009 6:02 pm

      Just a brief response to theWolf, actually friend, Jesus was all over the political scene. Stuff was always going down between the Pharisees the Sadducees and those who believed He was truly the Christ. Jesus was the political leader and figure of His time. He came to fulfill the law which caused great controversy among people who were strict observers of the Mosaic law. While I do not recall a time in the bible where Christ endorsed a political candidate in the temple, He definitely never minced words when directing people in how their daily lives were to be conducted in all areas ( money, family, and politics included) in accordance to the word of God. Our pastors are “suppose” to be representatives of Christ. Shouldn’t their jobs mirror His?

  3. mochasmind permalink
    June 11, 2009 5:32 pm

    I don’t see why my pastor or any other pastor should not be able to voice their opinions about certain candidates. What is the difference between the commercials they are allowed to air and what my pastor is allowed to say to me. Besides how do they know that on Sunday’s during church they aren’t already giving support to one candidate or another. Are they going to come into every church and say he you can’t endorse so and so? I don’t think so. I believe in and trust my pastor, but I am not just going to go out and do everything he says to do. I am my own person, just like everyone else. Most people are quite capable of making their own informed decisions through reading about candidates in the paper, listening to speeches, watching the tv ads and through conversations with family, friends, and also their pastor. Everybody wants so badly to separate church from everything, but only when it’s convenient. If there was such a separation of church and state, then gay marriages wouldn’t even be an issue. But it is because our laws are based around Christianity. So either they need to completely separate it or keep it together. Can’t have it both ways. And people wonder why this country is go to hell in a handbasket.

  4. John permalink
    June 11, 2009 6:20 pm

    i think pastors should be allowed to voice their opinions about any topic. there is no law that says we have to listen. I’ve seen pastors say they will cut their sermon short so everyone can get home in time for the football game. when they stand before the congregation, they say whatever they feel. its up to us as individuals to decide if we want to listen.

    we should be deciding for ourselves what political candidates we like anyway. everyone is gonna have their own opinions about everything, so we should develop our own opinions about them. regardless of what pastors discuss during their sermons, its up to us as individuals to decide how to take it.

  5. June 11, 2009 6:56 pm

    I’m okay with a Pastor voicing his concerns about politics or politicians, but not at church. I believe if there is a need to give people the truth about “the issues”…it’s okay to talk about just the issues.

    I think Pastors and non-profits should stick to educating their congregants and/or members about the importance of voting and educating themselves on political issues and political candidates.

  6. June 11, 2009 9:25 pm

    I wish my Pastor *would* keep politics (AND POLITICIANS) out of the pulpit. If I leave my church (and I’m thinking of doing so), it will be for that reason.

    To the person who said Jesus was all over politics: uhm…NO. No, He was not. Jesus was all over the religious leaders of his time. He wasn’t interested in politics or overthrowing the Roman government at all, and that is what disappointed the many who fronted as his followers but who really had no idea what He came to do. That’s a little free info for you. Oh, you don’t believe me? Look it up. It’s in the book.

    But back to my point…NO, I don’t want my Pastor holding my faith hostage to his political views or suggesting that a “true Christian” should only vote a certain way. When I come to church, I come to hear a word from GOD, not a political speech. I recognize the role the black church, especially, played in the Civil Rights movement. My Pastor was a Civil Rights pioneer, and he has never stopped bringing politics into the pulpit. As a result, he dances up to (and over?) that little 501(c)(3) line all the time. And it is truly maddening for me.

    Yes, the church can and should be involved in issues around social justice, but it should seek to find out how it can be effective in doing good regardless of the political party in power at the moment. People in the pews are perfectly capable of evaluating candidates and making their own informed choices. Pastors need to stop trying to amass financial and political power and start addressing the spiritual issues that are causing people not to have victory in their lives. The right wing has no monopoly on religion and morality, although they believe they do. Neither does the left wing. “The powers that be are ordained of God,” period. Pastors need to quit grandstanding and teach their congregations how to be responsible citizens and good Christians by their ACTIONS, not their propagandist views.

  7. Lori permalink
    July 21, 2009 2:12 pm

    I am totally opposed to preacher and pastors voicing their opinions in the pulpit. I ABHOR it, and find it very inappropriate. As for DiamondEmory’s comment – yes Jesus commented on the political scene, but pastor’s are HUMAN, with all the failings human beings have. Some are suspectible to flattery and influence.

    The proper place for these discussions is in the fellowship hall or at a meeting at some other time rather than during worship. During service, there is no opportunity to ask questions or refute statements that could be incorrect.

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