IRS gets complaints about pulpit politics

Sept. 29, 2008 at 8:36 PM
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., Sept. 29 (UPI) -- An organization that promotes separation of church and state has filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service about political sermons in U.S. pulpits.

Pastors across the United States preached politics from the pulpit Sunday, saying they hope to provoke a federal tax investigation that could lead to a lawsuit. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed complaints Monday with the IRS about six churches whose pastors took part in the defiance of federal tax law.

The pastors said they offered their endorsements during "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" to break the IRS rules, hoping to provoke a lawsuit that could prompt federal courts to throw out a half-century ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship, The Washington Post reported Monday.

The IRS bars church leaders from using their pulpits to espouse political views, which could jeopardize their tax-exempt status.

"These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The effort -- organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a socially conservative legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz. -- has drawn IRS attention, the Post said. The agency pledged to "monitor the situation and take action as appropriate."

Other clerics condemned the pastors' actions, saying pulpit politicking undercut the independence churches have to speak out about moral and ethical issues, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"Pastors have a responsibility to the whole of their flock to provide spiritual support and guidance," not partisan political advice, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, told the Times.

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