US pastors plan to defy law and endorse candidates

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Alliance Defense Fund has called on 35 pastors across the country to break IRS tax laws and endorse presidential candidates during sermons. The pastors will draw on Bible passages tomorrow in a protest organized by the group of conservative Christian lawyers.

The ADF launched the effort to protest a 50-year-old law which bans churches, religious groups, and non-profit groups that accept tax deductions from endorsing candidates. Erik Stanley, a legal adviser with the ADF, said the group would be sending copies of the sermons to the IRS and would be seeking a Supreme Court case. The law, he said, was unconstitutional because "being tax-exempt is part of freedom of religion; otherwise the government could tax churches out of existence."

Minnesota reverend Gus Booth, who is participating in the protest, says he will be endorsing Senator McCain and has forbidden his congregation from voting for Senator Obama due to his position on abortion. He defended his actions, saying "I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I want to say."

"Pulpit Freedom Sunday," as the event is being called, has drawn criticism from both religious and secular groups.

A group of former IRS officials and pastors held a conference on September 8, submitting a complaint to the IRS and urging other ministers to preach against the endorsements. One of the participants, former director of the IRS Marcus Owens, says the group may be facing a loss of its own tax exempt status and compared it to teaching people how to cheat on taxes.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the IRS are monitoring the situation.