The Internal Revenue Service should be, and is, enforcing a law banning pastors from talking politics from their pulpits, according to a spokesman for the White House.
Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto today told Les Kinsolving, WND's correspondent at the White House, that he hasn't talked with the president about a campaign event last Sunday at which ministers of the Gospel addressed the moral issues at hand in the 2008 election.
Kinsolving asked: "The AP also reports that 33 pastors in 22 states made specific endorsements of political candidates in challenging the IRS-Lyndon Johnson ruling about no political endorsements in churches. And my question: Does the president believe that America's clergy should be denied the freedom of speech to endorse political candidates?"
Fratto responded: "Those rules are set forth in IRS regulations, directed by statute. And the IRS is enforcing the law, and the president believes that the IRS should enforce the law. But on the specific question of these clergymen, I haven't had that conversation with the president."
The campaign was launched by the Alliance Defense Fund to challenge the 1954 amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that barred non-profit groups such as churches from participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of any political candidate.
At the time the effort was announced, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley said, "Pastors have a right to speak about biblical values from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights.
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"The government can't demand that a church give up its right to tax-exempt status simply because the pastor exercises his First Amendment rights in the pulpit. Groups like Americans United intentionally trigger IRS investigations that will silence churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation," he said.
The organization has posted a website video described the history of the rights of free speech, those who worked toward that goal and how the restriction came about.
"Prior to 1954, churches were free to evaluate the positions of political candidates on moral issues without fear of the Internal Revenue Service revoking their tax-exempt status," the ADF said. "That year, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson amended the tax code to add the threat of IRS action against churches if their pastors mentioned the positions of specific candidates from the pulpit. Citing that rule, groups like [Americans United] have repeatedly threatened to report churches to the IRS if they speak out on such issues."
Other tax-exempt organizations, the ADF said, don't have the same restrictions as churches, such as civic leagues; labor, agricultural, or horticultural associations; business leagues; chambers of commerce; real estate boards; boards of trade; professional football leagues; clubs organized for pleasure, recreation, and other nonprofit purposes; fraternal beneficiary societies; and cemeteries.
"The intimidation of churches by leftist groups using the IRS has grown to a point that ADF has no choice but to respond," Stanley said at the time. "The number of threats being reported to ADF is growing because of the aggressive campaign to unlawfully silence the church. IRS rules don't trump the Constitution, and the First Amendment certainly trumps the Johnson amendment."
According to the ADF, several dozen pastors participated in Sunday's campaign.
Kinsolving addressed the issue in his column for WND, which cited a message from Rev. John W. Yates II, clergyman for The Falls Church near Washington.
Yates referred to the "movement" afoot to have pastors "preach politics."
The law banning pastors from commenting "has always troubled me," he said.
"I'm skeptical about the government's authority to dictate to the church in this way," Yates said. "There is a cultural elitism in America that would like to keep religion privately comforting but publicly irrelevant! But if our biblical faith does not inform and shape our thinking on public policy and guide us in whom to vote for, we are simply failing in our responsibility as followers of Christ. We won't always agree with one another, but it is unthinkable that followers of Christ wouldn't evaluate candidates policies in light of the Word of God. I don't plan to break the law next Sunday. But I could envision a time arising when I would feel that I would be disobeying God not to speak to you about some political issue or election."
In a second question, Kinsolving asked: "The AP reports from Caracas that President Chavez said on Sunday that Russia will help Venezuela develop nuclear energy. And my question: Does the White House have concern that the capability of processing nuclear fuel will lead to a nuclear-armed Venezuela?"
Responded Fratto: "We'll just see what happens with Russia and Venezuela. I don't have a view on that right now." (9.30.2008) http://www.worldnetdaily.com/?pageId=76673