More than 1,500 pastors explicitly broke the law last Sunday by endorsing political candidates from the pulpit. Amid a tense election year, their participation in the annual protest "could hold more sway than in previous years," CNN reports.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), flaunts an IRS tax code restriction stating that churches risk their tax-exempt status if they endorse specific political candidates or positions on ballot issues. The aim of the event is to "provoke a challenge from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in order to file a lawsuit and have its argument out in court."
The IRS has not responded with direct legal action against churches participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday since the event began in 2008.
But the event could foster tension among the majority of Protestant pastors who believe pastors should not foray into political endorsements. New research from LifeWay indicates that "only 10 percent (of Protestant pastors) believe pastors should endorse candidates from the pulpit." LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer noted on his blog that this percentage is down from a similar survey conducted in 2010, when 15 percent of respondents supported political endorsements by pastors.
"This is not to say that pastors approve of the IRS regulating the ability of pastors to endorse candidates," Stetzer wrote. "The question here is whether pastors SHOULD, not whether the IRS should have the POWER to keep them from doing so."
CT has previously reported on how pastors are double-daring the IRS yet punishment is unlikely, as well as the ironies of the ADF seeking punishment in order "to protect freedom".