Tax status, political freedom at center of Pulpit Freedom Sunday
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Religious leaders across the country united for what they call Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
The movement is a protest against IRS code, which prevents church leaders from endorsing political candidates. According to the IRS, if they do so, they risk losing their organization’s tax-exempt status.
"We are together around a common faith in Christ, we are not gathered together as Democrats or Republicans or Independents," Rev. Roger Paynter with the First Baptist Church said.
Reverend Paynter said he fears that endorsing a candidate could not only tear his congregation apart, it could have grave consequences for his organization as a whole.
He opposes Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
"You cannot endorse a candidate,” Paynter said. “When you do that you are stepping over a line that is not just about your conscience, but is dictating something that could be a problem for every free church in this country."
Section 501 (C)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code makes religious organizations tax free, but it also prohibits their leaders from endorsing political candidates.
"A lot of folks believe that it's unconstitutional," Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, said.
Saenz says pastors view the IRS policy as muzzle.
"Pastors are saying we should have free speech and our rights as a church," Saenz said.
In a video posted online, San Diego pastor Jim Garlow says Alliance Defending Freedom--a group of lawyers that fight for religious freedom--has more than 2,000 attorneys ready to go to court.
"They're prepared to defend us pro-bono, that's free, as we once again reclaim freedom in the pulpit," Garlow said in the video.
With Election Day right around the corner, Paynter says the churches fighting the IRS have a conservative agenda.
"This is freedom to speak for Mitt Romney Sunday is what this is," he said. "I would feel the same if they were going to endorse Barack Obama. It's not right."
He says the best thing to do is to address politics in the broader sense, and leave choosing a candidate up to the people.