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Pulpit Freedom Sunday

As I’m sure readers of this blog know, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an annual event where the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) asks pastors to push the limits on political speech from the pulpits at the churches they serve. In the conservative religious media it is usually presented as being part of the ongoing assault on the Free Exercise clause; in secular etc. media it is presented as part of the ongoing assault on the Establishment clause.

Perhaps I am being cynical, but at the moment I am inclined to think this is just barratry [link] on the part of the ADF. We learned from the artifacts of the Grassley investigation that actual IRS investigations of political pulpit speech are rare (they’re expensive; they’re hard to investigate; the resulting fines are typically small) and actual fines, let alone loss of tax-exempt status, is almost unheard of.

Let me put that another way: I will believe the ADF isn’t just scaring people for money when they start listing churches that lost their tax-exempt status (or paid hefty fines) because of political pulpit speech.

In the meantime I’m afraid I’m going to have to assume that Pulpit Freedom Sunday is either a publicity stunt meant to burnish the reputation of the ADF or it’s an attempt to provoke a bunch of court cases that will cost churches and benefit their lawyers. Which I’m guessing would at least partly benefit the ADF.

Oh and. Pulpit Freedom Sunday is so ritualized at this point that even in an off year there’s a round of responses from mainstream media and the progressive sector. See e.g. Carl Gregg’s blog post [link] as an example of the latter. I tend to agree with his point that the Johnson Amendment represents a kind of quid pro quo between preachers and politicians (“you don’t pick a party; we won’t pick a denomination”), but as far as I can tell his references to fascism and Dominionism are just talking points, and he wouldn’t be a good progressive if he didn’t include them in the filler section of his post.


  1. October 6, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I hope that every last one of them loses their tax exempt status. This is like Wesley Snipes trying to claim he doesn’t have to pay taxes…If they want to endorse candidates then God bless them. Have the courage of your convictions and have at it. But don’t expect the rest of the country to subsidize your endorsement by giving your outfit a tax break. Hard to imagine Jesus and the Apostles haranguing the Empire for few shekels over something like this. Get off the public teat and no one will give a rip what you say or who you support.

    • October 6, 2011 at 10:07 am

      I think my read on a lot of this stuff is that the ADF is either fishing for a case they can take to the Supreme Court, or they’re engaged in a publicity stunt to stay in the public eye, or they’re hoping a bunch of preachers will generate fees for them somehow.

      I think the argument generally mooted in this context, that there’s a double standard regarding how politics can be discussed in church, is valid but unhelpful.

      And as I said in my post, prosecution for violating the Johnson Amendment is rare, so this issue isn’t entirely what it appears.

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