As part of their tax-exempt status under IRS regulation, churches are prohibited from endorsing political candidates. A number of justifications present themselves on behalf of this IRS regulation: the undue influence of religious organizations on the political process, the fear that these tax-exempt and difficulty-to-regulate organizations become financial vehicles for political candidates, and the fact that these organizations enjoy a privilege few organizations as large and numerous do: tax exempt status. Some churches, however, disagree:
Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.
The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”
Here’s the thing about the last sentence by the ADF attorney: it’s false. There’s even this rule we have- commonly called the establishment clause- that says so. Religion both benefits (free-exercise clause) and is hurt by (establishment clause) the provisions of the First Amendment. If it intends on wrapping itself in the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, it must also acknowledge that there is a provision of the Amendment that deals uniquely with religious organizations. Just as the free-exercise sought to stop unnecessary government involvment from stifling religious expression, the establishment clause attempts to prevent unnecessary religious involvment from poisoning politics. It works both ways. So before ADF cries foul about its sorry situation, it should be mindful of the implications of its fight against the First Amendment. Maybe they’ll pay taxes next year.