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Pastor Gus Booth remembers when he used to simply encourage his congregation of 150 in Warroad, Minn., to vote each Election Day. Now, he thinks it's important to tell them which candidate should get their vote.

On Sunday, as part of the "Pulpit Initiative" organized by an Arizona-based conservative Christian legal group, Booth is set to join dozens of clergy nationwide in challenging Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit churches from politicking by supporting or opposing candidates.

"If we can tell you what to do in the bedroom, we can certainly tell you what to do in the voting booth," said the Minnesota minister, an evangelical leader of a nondenominational church, who expects to endorse Republican John McCain during his "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" sermon.

"The voting booth is not some sort of sacred cow that you can't talk about. You're supposed to bring the gospel into every area of life."

The Alliance Defense Fund announced the initiative last May as a way to challenge IRS rules that date to 1954. ADF spokesman Greg Scott said the organization contacted "pastors, priests and rabbis from every major denomination," and knows of 33 clergy in 23 states who intend to take part on Sunday.

At least one clergyman who was contacted joined in filing a complaint against the initiative with the IRS.

"We're basically aiming to get these rules declared unconstitutional so that pastors have the right to speak freely from the pulpit without fear of punishment," said Dale Schowengerdt, legal counsel for the ADF.

He said his group is not telling pastors what to say, or whether to endorse specific candidates, but stands ready to support them if complaints are filed ...

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September 2008

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