Local pastor breaks law on "Pulpit Freedom Sunday"

SENATH, MO/PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Pastors across the U.S. participated in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," a day designated to challenge a 58-year-old law that prohibits tax exempt organizations from endorsing or contributing to political candidates.

The idea behind the national movement, organized by Alliance Defending Freedom, is to prompt the Internal Revenue Service to enforce the Johnson Amendment so that issue can go to court.

The tax code was introduced on the floor of the Senate by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson in 1954.

According to the regulations outlined by the Internal Revenue Service, "Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.  The prohibition applies to all campaigns including campaigns at the federal, state and local level.  Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes."

Political campaign intervention is defined as "any and all activities that favor or oppose one or more candidates for public office," including contributions, the distribution of verbal or written public statements of endorsement or opposition, and allowing a candidate to use "assets or facilities" if other candidates are not given the same opportunities.

Senath, MO Pastor Chuck Clark participated in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" at his church, Senath First Assembly of God during the 11 a.m. Sunday morning service.

Pastor Clark said the act of disobeying the Johnson Amendment, which is found in the 501(c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code, is about protecting freedoms of speech and religion, and fulfilling his responsibility as a pastor.

He believes his responsibility is to let his congregation know how the candidates' positions line up with the tenants of their Christian faith.

"If I don't give the facts then I have to answer to a much higher power than anybody here," he said.

Clark does not believe the separation of church and state is possible for people who choose to adopt a lifestyle according to their faith."I don't see any way you can dissect the two. I am who I am because of what I believe and where my faith lies."

"If people want to go into the booth and vote their own way, like I said in this morning's message, I'm still going to love them, I'm still going to be their pastor," he said.

In Paragould, AR, First United Methodist Church Pastor Angie Gage disagrees.

"We can't pick and choose Scripture to say this candidate is right and this candidate is wrong. We end up misusing Scripture."

Like Clark, Gage believes pastors should stand up for what is morally right according to the Bible, but Gage does not believe doing so includes endorsing a candidate.

"That's what this is about. It's about endorsing a political candidate and using Biblical truths to support that candidate. I can take Scripture in the Bible and use Scripture in the Bible to support any candidate that's out there," she said. "There does need to be a separation between the Church and politics."

"Pulpit Freedom Sunday" began in 2008.

The Internal Revenue Service has yet to revoke the tax exempt status of any of the participating churches.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.