Sunday morning, as congregation members finished the last song of praise and took their seats, the pastors of Encourager Church opened the sermon on forbidden ground: politics.
|Do You Like this Article? Then Like Us on Facebook.|
"I live my life from a biblical perspective and God is not silent on any issue in this year's election," Associate Pastor Fernando Ruata told the audience.
It is the fifth year Encourager has participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual protest of federal tax law that limits some political speech by religious leaders.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the group organizing the event, said nationwide about 1,000 pastors from almost 30 denominations signed up to preach about politics, including about 65 in the Houston area. The list of local participants was dominated by evangelicals, primarily Baptist and Latino congregations.
Participants mail the IRS video or printed copies of their sermons in which they endorse candidates or parties in defiance of federal law prohibiting tax-exempt nonprofits from making political endorsements for candidates.
Churches historically have been granted tax-exempt status because of the community services they provide.
An IRS spokesman declined comment on Sunday's protest.
Alliance Defending Freedom hopes to incite a lawsuit that would force courts to consider whether the 1954 Johnson Amendment unconstitutionally limits the free speech of religious leaders.
"Our role is to let the people know the truth. To let the people know what this person stands for and what the scripture says," said Moses Adedipe, pastor at Christ Apostolic Church Revival Center. "We should not be prevented from telling the truth."
Only a handful of churches have been taken to court since the law's passage.
In 2004, the IRS assigned agents to its Political Activity Compliance Initiative to monitor nonprofits, issuing warnings to 42 churches. The IRS website shows the task force continued its work in the 2008 election, but a spokesman would not confirm whether it still is in place.
Some legal historians say the law in question is applied sporadically and unevenly, and that it never was intended to apply to churches.
The amendment was a last-minute addition by then-Texas Sen. Lyndon Johnson, allegedly to silence tax-exempt organizations that opposed his reelection in favor of a candidate who supported Sen. Joe McCarthy's hunt for communists.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Houston Chronicle