Pastors recruited to defy IRS

The Wall Street Journal reports on an effort by a Scottsdale based conservative advocacy group to create a legal test to the IRS’s interpretation of the limits of political speech within churches.

The plan is to recruit 50 or so clergy and their congregations that will intentionally cross the line drawn by the IRS. It is hoped that the publicity surrounding the actions will force the IRS’s hand to prosecute the participating pastors.

From the article:

“The action marks the latest attempt by a conservative organization to help clergy harness their congregations to sway elections. The protest is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 28, a little more than a month before the general election, in a year when religious concerns and preachers have been a regular part of the political debate.

It also comes as the IRS has increased its investigations of churches accused of engaging in politics. Sen. Barack Obama’s denomination, the United Church of Christ, has said it was under investigation after it allowed the Democratic presidential candidate to address 10,000 church members last year. Last summer, the tax agency said it was reviewing complaints against 44 churches for activities in the 2006 election cycle. Churches found to be in violation can be fined or lose their tax exemptions.

[…]In recent years, attempts by members of Congress to change the law have failed. ‘Tax exemption is a benefit, and it comes with conditions,’ says Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a nonprofit that has filed more than a dozen complaints in the past year with the IRS, accusing nonprofits of tax-code violations. ‘So if any pastor out there feels he is gagged or can’t speak on partisan politics…forgo the tax exemption and say what you want.’

[…]Some legal scholars are hoping for a new test case. Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, says a church might make a successful claim that the federal government is burdening the free exercise of religion and cannot do so without a compelling state interest.”

Read the full article here.

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