Dozens of conservative pastors are defying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ban on ministers using their pulpits to endorse political candidates. Organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, the ministers are effectively daring the IRS to take away their tax-exempt status. The effort is an obvious set-up for litigation, though they may put conservatives like Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito in a tough position. ADF advocates insist that the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” is to intended to show that the “proper role” of pastors is to try to direct the voting of the faithful.
ADF attorney Erik Stanley says that “For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church. . . . 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 clearly the view of other nations like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan where clergy dominate politics and mete out their own sectarian forms of government. Now, the religious right wants to be exempted from taxes while using those tax exempt dollars to expand a church-based political movement.
The ADF was founded in 1994 by Christian conservatives including James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and William R. Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. It is viewed as an alternative to the ACLU in pushing a conservative agenda.
It would be an interesting test for Roberts and Alito, who tend to be extremely pro-government except in religion cases and a couple of other areas. Alito particularly assembled a record of virtually blind support for governmental claims in criminal, environmental, and other areas. Now, he would be asked to extend the same extreme deference to the IRS.
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