Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pastors to test LBJ's IRS law against electioneering

Regulation bans endorsement by non-profits of candidates for office

An estimated 1,400 pastors will take to their pulpits today to attempt a constitutional challenge to a tax law they say is often misconceived as an attempt to enforce a separation of church and state.

Lyndon Johnson was doing fine in the witch hunt year of 1954 until two right-wing billionaires labeled him soft on communism.

Though he wound up clobbering upstart challenger Dudley T. Dougherty by a 71-29 percent landslide margin of more than a half million votes in the Democratic Primary, the Senate Minority Leader wasn't taking any chances. Mr. Dougherty was a freshman State Senator from Beeville at the time.

Oil man H.L. Hunt's “Facts Forum” and newpaper magnate Frank Gannett's “Committee for a Constitutional Government” distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets that attacked his record on the Red Menace, and Lyndon took action – pronto.

His amendment passed by a unanimous voice vote; Ike signed the bill, and it's been the law ever since. Many neoconservative and devout Protestant fundamentalists join Catholic Bishops in criticizing Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code as a chilling stricture on their political speech.

Nevertheless, no one has really taken the law seriously since a 1995 attempt by the IRS to stifle preachers who attacked presidential nominee Bill Clinton in full-page newspaper ads. Though the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of The Church At Pierce Creek in New York, the resulting investigations by and large did a belly flop - in public.

Preachers later sermonized against Slick Willy's dalliances with various women outside his marriage vows, demanding his ouster in impeachment proceedings – and very nearly got their way.

Pastors chafing under the strictures of the 501(c)(3) regulation launched “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in 2008, something the government sidestepped neatly in the Byzantine loops and twists of motions and pleadings of a federal court.

The tax men launched an initiative in 2004 that led to investigations of churches during the election cycles of 2004, 2006, and 2008.

But audits of offending churches have been pending since 2009 following a U.S. District Court ruling handed down in Minnesota that held the IRS doesn't have the appropriate staff to investigate places of worship. They are busy working on a reorganization plan to deal with that problem - even as we speak.

“Every pastor and every church has the right to decide what their pastor preaches from the pulpit and to not have that dictated to them by the IRS,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for AllianceDefending Freedom(click), the Arizona-based organization that has lined the churches up to mount today's constitutional test. The Alliance has sponsored many such lawsuits challenging the government's constitutional holdings and practices regarding the operations of member churches.

They are hoping for a rash of investigations aimed at curbing the political speech of pastors in today's pulpit freedom demonstration. Their aim is to provoke the government to launch investigations so they can seek relief from the law Senator Lyndon Johnson engineered to belay the threats of a couple of pesky billionaires who were heckling, calling him names from behind a corporate veil with a tax-exempt, non-profit status.

Many legal experts say it won't happen, that the government knows better than to wade into a fight it can't win.

With or without a lawsuit – or the grounds to file one – officials of Alliance Defending Freedom say they will win big time in the court of public opinion by the actions of pastors agitating for political freedom in their pulpits today.


  1. So,will these church leaders discuss with their congregation that mitt romney believes jesus & satan are brothers? That heaven is on a planet called kobal in outer space? That romney in 1994 said he would defend abortion rights until he died? That he believes a man in love with another man has the right to adopt children & have full marriage rights? That he would do more for the gay community then ted kennedy ever did?(the last one he went to a gay pride parade & handed out pink flyers with "mitt romney will do more for the homosexual community than ted kennedy ever did") Will the pastors let their congregations know about all that?

  2. The last I heard, Mr. Romney was telling those who asked that he would prefer to let his "faith" and the people of his church answer those questions. He said he loves his faith and that he had no words when it came to kind of questions. True story. I saw him say it on television. - The Legendary