Following up on an item from a few weeks ago, federal tax law, as it relates to tax-exempt religious ministries, is pretty clear -- houses of worship may not legally intervene in political campaigns, either in support of or opposition to a candidate or a party. Those who violate the law run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a prominent far-right legal-advocacy group, came up with a plan -- convince conservative Christian pastors to break the law, on purpose, invite IRS punishment, and then take the whole issue to court in order to challenge the law itself.
They called the plan "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," which was held yesterday in 33 churches across the country.
Defying a federal law that prohibits U.S. clergy from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit, an evangelical Christian minister told his congregation Sunday that voting for Sen. Barack Obama would be evidence of "severe moral schizophrenia."
The Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told worshipers that the Democratic presidential nominee's positions on abortion and gay partnerships exist "in direct opposition to God's truth as He has revealed it in the Scriptures." Johnson showed slides contrasting the candidates' views but stopped short of endorsing Obama's Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
Johnson and 32 other pastors across the country set out Sunday to break the rules, hoping to generate a legal battle that will prompt federal courts to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.
The ministers contend they have a constitutional right to advise their worshipers how to vote. As Johnson put it during a break between sermons, "The point that the IRS says you can't do it, I'm saying you're wrong."
At first blush, this may sound compelling. If a church wants to endorse a candidate, it's the church's business, right? If congregations don't like it, they can go to another church. If a pastor passes the collection plate for John McCain during Sunday services, church members can contribute or not contribute. This isn't, the argument goes, any of the government's business.
But this falls apart pretty quickly. Tax law doesn't stifle free speech; it applies conditions to tax exemptions.
I do believe this little stunt's going to go over about as well as their repeated attempts to teach creationism in science class. Maybe we can pay for the eventual bailout by taxing churches that are too stupid and pompous to believe the tax laws should apply to them.
Hopefully, this moronic move will make it to the Supreme Court. I could use the entertainment. I do so love watching arrogant assholes get bitch-slapped by Constitutional law.