Posted: Oct 2, 2012 11:37 PM by Andy Koen
Updated: Oct 8, 2012 2:48 PM
There's a good chance this week's presidential debate will be a popular topic at church come Sunday. More than a thousand churches across the country are preparing to openly defy the federal tax code by talking about the candidates from the pulpit as part of a coordinated movement called Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
Pastor Mark Cowart of the Church for All Nations in Colorado Springs says he will be joining the demonstration.
"We're going to take and examine what their records are and how they have stood on issues that are important for us as Christians," he explained.
Cowart says he wants his congregation to have spiritual guidance when they cast their votes for president, even if it means a run-in with the IRS.
"You can't separate faith and politics anymore than you can separate faith and morality."
Some in the community say the churches are going too far. Groff Schroeder, the Vice President of the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs, believes they should just obey the law.
"These rules are easy to play by, it's not hard to just stick to the issues and not advocate for candidates or oppose candidates," he said.
His understanding of the tax code comes from helping to form the Freethinkers in the early 1990's as a non-profit organization opposition to Amendment 2. Schroeder believes any churches that advocate for candidates should be dealt with by the IRS.
"You should face the music for that and have your status reviewed," he said.
Under the existing Internal Revenue Service Code, any 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization could lose its tax-exempt status and be charged an excise tax for "participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."
IRS spokeswoman Karen Connelly couldn't directly comment on the protest, but instead directed us to pamphlets they provide to churches to clarify questions about the tax code.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is organized by the group Alliance Defending Freedom that was also formed in the early 1990's with the stated mission of wanting to transform the legal system and advocate "for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."
They believe the barrier from endorsing candidates imposed in the tax code is unconstitutional because it violates the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment. It was added as an amendment to the 1954 tax code overhaul by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson as an attempt to "muzzle" a pair of non-profit organizations that threatened his reelection. The amendment passed on a voice vote without committee hearings or legislative analysis.
There hasn't been a constitutional challenge to the Johnson Amendment since it was added to the tax code. Many view this Sunday's demonstration as a dare to the IRS and the Obama administration to actually tax the churches so as to create the legal grounds to fight the issue in court.