Tuesday, July 28, 2009

IRS backs off from enforcing against MN pastor its regulation prohibiting pastors from expressly opposing/supporting political candidates from pulpit.

The IRS announced recently it was not going to enforce its regulation prohibiting pastors from expressly endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit against a northern Minnesota pastor. Yet the IRS says it’s leaving the door open to future consideration. It looks like a classic case of intimidation to me.

The following is a copy of our press release on the matter.

IRS backs down from enforcing its election regulations against Minnesota pastor.

IRS says it’s closing its audit of pastor’s sermon encouraging church attendees not to vote for Obama in 2008 presidential election though it leaves the door open to further inquiry.

MINNEAPOLIS – Tom Prichard, President of the Minnesota Family Council, said today the IRS backed down from enforcing its regulation prohibiting pastors from expressly endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit, yet seeks to maintain a cloud of uncertainty for pastors opposing or supporting political candidates from the pulpit. The case involves Warroad, MN, Pastor Gus Booth.

“This looks like a clear case of intimidation. The IRS is refusing to enforce its regulation prohibiting pastor endorsement of or opposition to political candidates from the pulpit yet leaves the door open to future enforcement of its controversial regulation. It looks like a classic David versus Goliath confrontation. However, in this instance Goliath, while unwilling to fight, wants to intimidate pastors into silence by maintaining uncertainty in the law,” said Prichard.

The pastor, Gus Booth from Warroad, MN, delivered a sermon from his church’s pulpit on September 28, 2008, encouraging those in attendance not to vote for then candidate Barack Obama because of his pro-abortion positions. Booth then sent his sermon to the IRS. Pastor Booth was participating in the Alliance Defense Fund’s “Pulpit Freedom” Sunday initiative which encouraged pastor’s to challenge the IRS regulation that prohibits pastors from explicitly supporting or opposing political candidates from the pulpit.

The IRS said it was closing the examination of Booth’s case, though it left the door open to future consideration. See http://www.telladf.org/UserDocs/IRSletterClosingFile.pdf for a copy of the IRS’ letter to Pastor Booth.

"Pastors should be free to speak or not to speak in opposition to or support of political candidates according to the dictates of their consciences. They shouldn't have their free speech rights, guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, undermined by the IRS. Yet that appears to be what the IRS is trying to do in this instance," concluded Prichard.

1 comment:

jesse said...

I am a born-again Christian. But this is a silly and not completely truthful argument by Prichard. What the pastor is trying to do is not JUST preach his conscience (which in fact he can under current law, including any IRS regulations), but the pastor ALSO wants a tax-exempt status for his church. The government chooses to endorse charities and religion by not taxing them as the government recognizes their value to the community. What Prichard is not disclosing is that he wants the government to reward pastors for endorsing political parties and/or candidates in addition to their church-related activities. I assume Prichard is aware that churches overwhelmingly support conservatives and Republicans more than their liberal counterparts. This being the case, I assume Prichard favors such an IRS exception for pastors as this will further his own political agenda (being a Christian, conservative himself).

However, I strongly oppose this measure as it puts the government in a position of rewarding a person's support for a political party or candidate. The government should not reward a person for taking a political position (other than by the person's vote). Democracy works because every person gets one equally weighted vote. And although a person can be as vocal as they want about their conscience, the government should not be rewarding such people who choose to speak out simply because they are a Pastor. To do so is not fair to those of us who also want to speak out but who are not speaking from a pulpit. The government must treat all speech equally - it should not pick and choose who gets a "louder" voice in the process.

Lastly, pastors speak from a unique position of authority. People not only consider what they say to be insightful, but many people follow their pastor's advice as both the "gospel truth" on a matter and recognize that their eternal life (or death) is dependent following the scriptures (which includes the interpretations given by their clergy. For example, the Catholic Church's teachings on " good works" and its use of "confessionals" and their priest's ability to grant forgiveness for their sins are clearly a means to obtain eternal life. That said, clergy being allowed to preach politics from the pulpit would certainly create an environment similar to pre-America church-state hostilities - one of the many reasons the Founding Fathers fled their own government's hostility and created these United States of America.