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September 08, 2008

ADF Plans to Challenge Ban on Political Activity By Tax-Exempt Churches

The Alliance Defense Fund's next shit-stirring operation is to have multiple churches and pastors give explicitly political sermons to provoke a lawsuit. I foresee Rule 11 sanctions and bar discipline for the lawyers involved in this hare-brained scheme.

Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

"For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church," ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. "It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It's not for the government to mandate the role of church in society."

This is, in a word, stupid. Of course clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits. They can endorse 'til they are blue in the face. They are free to hold bake sales and raffles to raise money for political advocacy, if that's what they want to do. No one is stopping them.

But take heed: no one has a right to tax-exempt status. If churches want the benefits that come from being 501(c)(3)-eligible, they must behave according to rules established by Congress and the IRS. Among other things, they must not devote a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation and they must not participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

The ADF claims that the purpose of these restrictions is to silence churches and prevent religion from influencing public policy. That is simply untrue. The point is that churches should not have to worry about things like taxes. We also want contributions to churches to be tax-deductible (in order to encourage such contributions).

But we don't want contributions to political advocacy to be tax-deductible. In effect, by allowing churches to participate in political campaigns, the ADF wants to create a method of making tax-deductible contributions to political campaigns. This is a form of political money-laundering and it results in too much entanglement between churches and our government.

Now, I'm certain the ADF knows this, which is why my first thought was sanctions and discipline when I read the article. These lawyers are on thin ice. Most bar associations have rules to the effect that a lawyer shall not counsel or assist a client in engaging in criminal or fraudulent conduct. Now, a church engaging in political activity is not a crime or fraud. But inducing a client to engage in frivolous litigation may be. These people should know better.

Exit question: Why is it the two or three most vocal Christian-advocacy organizations in this country have to be so embarrassing?

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 12:01 PM

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