Pulpit Freedom Sunday Questions Clergy Tax Laws

According to an October 2 Huffington Post blog, nearly 1000 pastors from around the country will have taken on the IRS on Sunday, October 7 by participating in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”. One of the major aspects of clergy tax code is the fact that churches are considered tax-exempt. However, pastors across the country believe that their voices are being silenced politically due to that status.

Currently under the Johnson Amendment, tax-exempt organizations, which include churches, are not allowed to endorse any candidate running for elective public office. Therefore, the questions behind the creation of “Pulpit Free Sunday” is whether or not free speech reigns over tax-exempt organizations or if tax-exempt organizations should be permitted to make political recommendations to its members.

The Christian organization behind “Pulpit Free Sunday” is the Alliance Defending Freedom. They believe that it’s unconstitutional that pastors are being censored.  Due to the nature of clergy taxes, churches are considered tax-exempt and are therefore abstained from preaching politics. As a result, they believe the voice of the church is being silenced. Pastors are encouraged to speak on politics, record the sermons and mail them to the IRS. They are then hoping that the IRS will follow through on previous threats made of removing the tax-exempt status of a church caught preaching politics, that way they can take the matter to a judge to decide if this is a violation of the first amendment.

Here’s what Section 501(c) (3) of the IRS code says about an eligible nonprofit religious group:

A tax-exempt religious organization is a legal entity or vehicle created and operated exclusively for religious purposes, no part of the net earnings of which insures to the benefit of any private individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in or interfere in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

When a church is considered 501 (c) (3) for clergy tax purposes when a church speaks out against anything that the government considers legal or push politics or agendas they are putting their tax-exempt status in jeopardy. Pastors are hoping that by actively disobeying they will be given the opportunity to speak freely in the future.