Supposedly in the name of “free speech,” more than 1,000 conservative pastors are promising to stand up in their pulpits prior to November’s election and endorse candidates.
They will have somebody videotaping this endorsement, and they will send the video to the IRS, as a challenge for the federal agency to do something about it.
That’s because it’s currently a violation of federal law for churches and tax-exempt charities to endorse political candidates. These churches could lose their federal tax exemption for it. And that means their donors could lose the ability to deduct contributions on their taxes. This law, which applies to all 501(c)3 charities, is known as the “Johnson rule” and it’s been on the books for more than 50 years.
The misguided pastors are being organized by an outfit called Alliance Defending Freedom. And it trumpets the issue as one of “free speech rights.” The government, they argue, is squelching these preachers’ free speech. Prohibiting the pastors from endorsing candidates is a violation of their First Amendment Rights.
This is 100 percent untrue. It’s based on an uneducated/redneck view of what the First Amendment says. And that’s being egged on by smart-though-evil people who know better, but who have an interest in seeing Mitt Romney get elected. Because that’s who these pastors are going to endorse, after all, probably along with some other RWer candidates lower on the ticket.
Let’s get it straight: The IRS isn’t restraining ANYONE from saying ANYTHING on behalf of ANY candidate. No preacher has been muzzled, or is going to be muzzled. They can say whatever they want.
But they can’t necessarily expect to endorse a candidate and have their church maintain its tax-exempt status.
Let’s keep in mind that the government maintains the roads those congregants drive on to get to those churches. The government sends firefighters to put out blazes in those churches when they catch fire. The government covers the cost of police investigating break-ins at those churches. The government gives those churches disaster aid when they get flooded and are temporarily out of businesses.
And they pay absolutely no real estate, income or other taxes. And the people who give them money are allowed to do so tax-free.
In these respects, the government actually SUBSIDIZES these churches and other 501(c)3 charities. And among the rules that allow such a subsidy is that the church can’t endorse a political candidate. So if a church wants to keep that SUBSIDY, all it has to do is make sure its preacher shuts his trap concerning political endorsements, and stays neutral.
It’s not a matter of FREE speech, then — it’s a matter of SUBSIDIZED speech. They’ve got that now, provided they adhere to a simple rule. But they don’t want to.
These preachers — the ones who are going to pull these endorsement stunts and defy federal law — want to have their cake and eat it to.
They have the freedom to choose one way or the other. Let’s hope the IRS cracks down on them — like the federal agency hasn’t in the past.