Pastors picking fight from the pulpit to protest IRS tax code

1,500 pastors taking part in Pulpit Freedom Sunday

SAN DIEGO - Hundreds of pastors across the country are preparing to break the law Sunday by talking about or endorsing anything political.

Skyline Church's Jim Garlow is one of the 1,500 pastors participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

"The hope is it will provoke the IRS to take us to court," said Garlow in a YouTube video.

The issue with the Internal Revenue Service all stems from a 1954 amendment to the U.S. tax code that prohibits nonprofits, including churches, from participating in political campaigns and endorsements.

Pastors like East Clairemont Baptist Church's Chris Clark are purposely challenging that law and talking politics from the pulpit.

"The government is trying to dictate to pastors what they can and cannot say in the pulpit. We're not going to let it happen," said Clark.

This past Sunday, Clark endorsed Mitt Romney because the Republican's religious views agree with his own. At the same time, Clark refused to endorse either of San Diego's mayoral candidates because neither man falls in line with his religious views.

"They're both on the wrong side of family issues," said Clark. "So I go and endorse that [candidate]. Does that mean people have to go and vote my way? No."

Clark said there will be plenty of pastors who will endorse President Barack Obama, debunking the notion that religion is purely for conservatives.

"That's not really the issue," he said. "The issue is can I say whatever God directs me in the pulpit."

"Not only is it legal, we have a long history and tradition of religious leaders speaking out on political and social rights," said Thomas Jefferson School of Law constitutional professor David Steinberg. He said Martin Luther King Jr. and Pastor Jeremiah Wright have both used the pulpit to express controversial, political and civil rights issues.

Steinberg said the IRS tax code amendment violates the U.S. Constitution and a pastor's right to free speech.

"The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and this law [the IRS Tax Code amendment] ought to be struck down," said Steinberg, who also said the "separation of church and state" does not apply, mostly because it doesn't exist in the Constitution.

Clark said the original "separation of church and state" was meant to keep government out of the church's business and still allows the church to comment on government matters.

"Church was never intended to be separate from the state in its influence," said Clark.

Steinberg called the IRS Tax Code amendment a double standard. He said groups like the American Civil Liberties Union would staunchly support a liberal's freedom of expression.

"All that these religious leaders want to do is speak their mind. Is the ACLU out there defending them? No," he questioned.

10News contacted the ACLU and the IRS for comment, but neither declined to discuss the matter.

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