RAPID CITY, S.D. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys have agreed to represent a South Dakota church reported to the Internal Revenue Service by Americans United for Separation of Church and State because the church’s pastor engaged in free speech from the pulpit.
“Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government, yet that’s precisely what Americans United wants,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Under the First Amendment, a pastor, not the IRS, determines what his sermon will say. Groups like Americans United intentionally trigger IRS investigations that will silence churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation. It’s a contradiction for groups that say they believe in ‘separation of church and state’ to say it’s the role of the IRS to decide what pastors can talk about in church without being investigated.”
AU reported Liberty Baptist Tabernacle to the IRS in an attempt to threaten the church’s tax-exempt status after its pastor, H. Wayne Williams, voiced his preference for a particular candidate for governor in a Sunday evening sermon. Pastors spoke freely from the pulpit without worrying about tax exemptions until 1954 when Congress passed a tax code amendment proposed by then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson that prohibits any speech about a political candidate. The ADF Pulpit Initiative, a part of the larger Church Project, is a legal effort designed to restore the right of pastors to speak freely from the pulpit on any and all issues addressed by Scripture.
“IRS rules don’t trump the Constitution, and the First Amendment certainly trumps the Johnson Amendment,” Stanley explained. “No tax exemption can ever be contingent upon someone giving up a constitutional right. We will continue to monitor this situation and take appropriate steps to defend the church, if necessary.”
As part of the Pulpit Initiative, pastors across the country will participate in the third annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Sept. 26. Pastors participating in the event will exercise their First Amendment rights by preaching biblically-based sermons at their own churches about the positions of electoral candidates and current government officials.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.