Is your church afraid of the IRS? I’m not talking about a healthy fear of following the law to avoid the unpleasant consequences of a deserved tax audit. Instead, I’m talking about a certain level of paranoia that leads to second-guessing or avoiding actions in your church. Some churches resort to censoring their own activities out of paranoia over what the IRS might do. First Amendment lawyers call this a “chill on speech,” because it involves self-censorship to avoid the reach of an overbroad or vague law.
One church in North Carolina recently experienced this chilling effect, although they handled the situation well. Tabor City Baptist Church puts out a newsletter, and in the most recent edition, printed an invitation for its members to come to a luncheon featuring a candidate for state representative. Immediately, church members questioned whether the church had violated IRS regulations. The issue even made it on the local media who came to interview the pastor. Pastor Bruce Schimdt didn’t back down. He responded to the media, stating: “We are not giving an endorsement as a church, which we’re prohibited to do as a tax exempt organization. But we feel like it’s very very important to give acknowledgement and encourage people to pray and do their civic duty and step up and be involved in the political process… We are honored to pray for and acknowledge our leaders, Democrat or Republican.”
Here’s the point: under the tax code, this church did nothing wrong. They made an opportunity available to one candidate that they would also give to any other candidate. The church’s actions do not violate the tax code and they shouldn’t fear the IRS breathing down their necks with an audit. Yet, despite the fact that the church did not violate the law, questions were raised by members, the media came calling, and the issue went public. I am sure the general stress level among the church staff and the membership also rose considerably. And the overall message was that churches should just stay away from this area because it is simply too dangerous.
Situations like this are precisely why Alliance Defending Freedom created Pulpit Freedom Sunday. No pastor or church should fear the IRS when they use their faith to engage candidates in an election. The vagueness of the IRS regulations on churches leads to a very real chill on a church’s speech and activities. It’s time to remove that chill and allow churches to engage the political realm with their faith without fearing retaliation or punishment by the government. Pulpit Freedom Sunday aims to do just that – to have the Johnson Amendment in the tax code declared unconstitutional so that pastors and churches don’t have to fear the IRS.
Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an opportunity for pastors to preach sermons about the election or about the candidates running for office in light of Biblical truth. If you are a pastor, will you consider signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday? if you are not a pastor, please tell your pastor about Pulpit Freedom Sunday and encourage him to sign up to participate. Pastors have a right to speak freely on the issue of elections and candidates and should never fear government punishment for shining the light of their faith in this area of life.