National News

Group Challenges IRS Restriction on Religion

WASHINGTON (CNS) – With a new election cycle approaching, churches are reminded of what they can and cannot do under a decades-old congressional amendment that prohibits political campaigning in such institutions.

The Johnson amendment to the tax code was enacted in 1954 to prevent tax-exempt organizations under the Internal Revenue Service from participating in political campaign activity. It has drawn criticism from religious institutions and nonprofit organizations for restricting their constitutional right to free speech.

According to section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code, charities, churches and other organizations that are not required to pay a federal income tax cannot “participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” They can engage in nonpartisan activities such as administering voter education guides, conducting voter registration drives and holding nonpartisan educational forums.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, has launched a campaign called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

What the group calls a “strategic litigation plan” encourages religious leaders to preach on moral, social and governmental issues to their congregation. The way it works is that pastors agree to give a politically motivated sermon suggesting a specific candidate to vote for and then send a record of their sermon to the IRS in the hopes of triggering legal action. The group would represent the church free of charge and seek to have the Johnson amendment declared unconstitutional.

The alliance’s senior legal counsel, Erik Stanley, said the purpose of this initiative is to end the federal government’s control over the content of a pastor’s sermon by taking the issue to court.

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