Preachers perverting the political process is nothing new, but the numbers of participants are.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious-conservative legal organization, churches participating in ‘Pulpit Freedom‘ has jumped from 33 in 2008 to more than 1,600 houses of worship preaching politics this year.
Before the midterm elections (and still continuing), churches participated in pulpit freedom of speech, not by lecturing on protected speech issues like abortion, gay marriage, and education — no— they disregarded the Johnson Amendment and endorsed candidates openly.
It’s nothing new but the number of churches openly participating in partisan elections has certainly increased.
Most likely participation increased due in part to the election, but also because of the situation in Houston, Texas, where five religious leaders had their sermons subpoenaed for pushing a petition to remove the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would add protections to housing, business and employment laws to protect the LGBTQ community — churches were exempt.
The religious right has essentially hijacked the argument and have turned it into an attack on religious freedoms.
Religious-conservatives like Rick Santorum like to proclaim that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional, but churches and the Santorums of the world don’t get to decide what is or isn’t constitutional — courts do. Therefore churches are obligated to follow the law to keep their profits out of government.
Churches want to have their communion wafer and eat it too
Under tax code 501(c)(3), a religious group filing as a “Charitable Organization,” endorsing a candidate in a partisan election is not protected speech, because by filing tax-exempt the organization can no longer organize for the benefit of an individual.
The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.
While a religious leader is protected to preach on conservative issues, they are supposed to keep exact candidates names out of their mouths, otherwise they run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.
The ADF is actually hoping the Internal Revenue Service will try to pull churches tax-exempt status, so they can open cases against the IRS for trampling on religious freedom of speech — thus they will try to destroy the tax laws giving the religious right more power over politics.
The Americans United for Separation of Church and State organization has put the ADF and participating churches on notice. AU Executive Director, Barry W. Lynn issued a statement:
Church electioneering is illegal, and the people don’t support it. It’s time for the Religious Right to stop trying to drag churches into backroom politics.
While the IRS isn’t biting, churches are allowed to openly endorse politicians which is a huge perversion of a separation laws.