The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty challenged the Internal Revenue Service today to investigate Calvary Assembly of God in Algoma, Wisconsin, because Pastor Kenneth Taylor dared to use his pulpit to preach on the moral implications of a political campaign. In an open letter published in [Wednesday's] Wall Street Journal, Pastor Taylor, who is being defended by The Becket Fund, said:
"Preaching about politics from the pulpit has always been a part of freedom of speech and freedom of religion in this country… As a preacher, I am obliged to say something about it, and I shouldn't have to worry about how the government might retaliate," said Pastor Taylor. "Last election I delivered a sermon… I challenge you — if you still think it's the law — to investigate what I preached that day." Click here to see a video of the sermon.
"Since our nation's founding, ministers, pastors, rabbis and priests have used their pulpits to inspire fellow believers to political action," said Kevin "Seamus" Hasson, founder and President of the Washington-based Becket Fund. "If Martin Luther King Jr. were preaching today, the IRS would be harassing him for using his pulpit for political activism." From Rev. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the New England ministers who fought for the abolition of slavery, to the Civil Rights movement, religious activists have used their pulpits to shape this country. But in 1954, recently-reelected Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson, Texas Democrat and Senate Majority Leader, changed the tax-code to retaliate against a tax-exempt charity that had opposed his candidacy. LBJ's law states that non-profits, including houses of worship, shall not "intervene in" any political campaign.
Fair enough. But clergy speaking to their congregations is not the same as a church, as a legal entity, endorsing a candidate. For 50 years the IRS has used this extremely broad interpretation of this law to censor and intimidate religious leaders of every faith. "Churches and other houses of worship have always been unique places where Americans discuss how their deepest beliefs intersect with their daily lives," said Hasson. "The IRS should not be allowed to stop that conversation by threatening to strip a church's tax exemption."