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Conservative Lawyers Launch Fight Against IRS

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                  
©2008 Religion News Service
conservative Christian legal group has launched an initiative for pastors to challenge Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that prevent them from discussing political candidates from the pulpit.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) said on May 9 that its "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," set for September 28, will challenge use of IRS regulations to "intimidate" pastors from speaking about political candidates.

"Pastors have a right to speak about biblical values from the pulpit without fear of punishment," said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based legal organization. "No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights."

The ADF has posted a form on its Web site for interested pastors to register to be considered for the initiative, which will occur on a Sunday less than two months before the general election.

Mike Johnson, another senior legal counsel with the ADF, said about 100 church leaders, many of whom had already known about the initiative, have shown interest. They include evangelical Protestants and some Catholic priests. Johnson said it is not the initiative's intent to encourage candidate endorsements--which are prohibited for tax-exempt organizations--but he said: "I think we would defend that as a constitutional right to free speech."

The ADF documents explain that ADF staff will help each "client church" prepare sermons "to ensure maximum effectiveness in challenging the IRS." If the IRS investigates a church, it could then be an ADF client in a lawsuit against the tax agency.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State called the initiative "deplorable" and said it would be ready to report churches to the IRS. "This is a truly deplorable scheme," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of the Washington-based watchdog group. "Federal tax law rightly requires churches and other tax-exempt groups to use their resources for religious and charitable purposes, not partisan politics."


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