When Pastor Jim Garlow took to the pulpit September 28, he was thinking two things.
He first thought that the sermon he was about to give, a sermon in which he was going to endorse a handful of 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls, might earn him a letter from the IRS, possibly even a visit from an agent. By endorsing candidates, Garlow was about to violate the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt churches from engaging in political activity.
But according to Garlow, the senior pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California, the conviction that “our nation, economically and morally, is in such a condition that America as we have known it for its 200-plus years is on the verge of disappearing” was enough of an impetus to break the rules.
Garlow’s sermon was part of a wider effort by the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization that since 2008 has hosted Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a day when they encourage and promise to protect pastors who willfully violate the Johnson Amendment and endorse from the pulpit.
The movement is growing. While it started with 33 churches in 2008, 539 churches participated in 2011.
“We basically see Pulpit Freedom Sunday as a means of protecting a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit without fearing government censorship in any way,” said Erik Stanley, ADF’s senior legal counsel and organizer of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
And so far, the effort has received little to no response from the IRS. Though the agency did not respond to CNN’s request for specific numbers, according to Stanley, the majority of the messages go unnoticed and only a handful of pastors receive letters.
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