The fact that the IRS has a checkered history of enforcing the Johnson Amendment should not come as a surprise to anyone. Over the years, the IRS has seemed to give favored churches and groups a pass on the Johnson Amendment while cracking down on others. The IRS has also issued regulations enforcing the Johnson Amendment that are unclear and unhelpful to pastors seeking to understand what the law prohibits. Attorneys argue over what churches and pastors can and cannot do when it comes to elections. How are pastors supposed to know with clarity what they are allowed to do?
The latest chapter in the sad saga of the IRS’ enforcement of the Johnson Amendment comes as the result of an atheist lawsuit against the IRS. The lawsuit stems from a 2008 federal court ruling that struck down the IRS’ policies for how it audits churches because they did not comply with the Church Audit Procedures Act passed by Congress in 1984. That law was intended to protect churches from politically-motivated audits by requiring a high level IRS official to approve all church audits. In response to the Judge’s 2008 decision, the IRS appeared to stop auditing churches altogether.
Freedom From Religion Foundation’s lawsuit claimed that the IRS was giving preferential treatment to churches because it wasn’t enforcing the Johnson Amendment against them even though it was against other non-profit organizations.
The atheist group recently announced a settlement of its lawsuit. In the announcement, FFRF claimed that the IRS had provided it with assurances that it was in fact auditing churches and that it had procedures in place to continue auditing churches. FFRF claimed that the settlement was a victory to “end church electioneering.”
So what do churches need to know about all of this? First, ADF firmly believes that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional when it is used to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit. The IRS’ recent promise to FFRF that it will audit churches does not change the fact that the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional. Churches need to know that if the IRS does punish a church for something its pastor says from the pulpit, ADF will be there to defend the pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit and to argue that the Johnson Amendment should be declared unconstitutional.
Second, it is troubling that the IRS gave assurances to FFRF that it had procedures in place to audit churches in a way that complied with the Church Audit Procedures Act. This is troubling because those procedures were never publicized and so we have no way of knowing if the procedures actually do comply with the law. It is always troubling when a federal agency as powerful as the IRS operates in total secrecy. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom did a Freedom of Information Act request to the IRS to uncover the procedures the IRS says it has and bring them into the light of day. America’s churches have a right to know they will be treated fairly by the IRS and the IRS cannot be allowed to follow secret procedures for auditing churches.
Overall, though, no pastor should ever fear the IRS when he stands in the pulpit to proclaim biblical truth. That’s why it is important to sign up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday. By participating, pastors across the country can stand united to tell the IRS that it has no business censoring a sermon.
If you are a pastor, you can go to www.pulpitfreedom.org. There you will find different ways you can stand up to the IRS. You can simply sign an agreement statement that the IRS should not censor a pastor’s sermon. Or you can sign up to preach an election sermon along with hundreds of other pastors from across the country on October 5, 2014.
The IRS’ reign of intimidation and fear must come to an end. And no atheist group should be able to use the IRS to further their purpose of pushing churches from the public square. Go to www.pulpitfreedom.org and sign up to participate today.