Legal Group Tells IRS to Back Off Intimidating Churches

About time too.

(AgapePress) – A religious liberties group says it has had enough of the Internal Revenue Service bullying pastors, and wants those pastors and churches to know that the U.S. Constitution trumps IRS regulations about what can and can’t be said from the pulpit.

The Washington, DC-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty says the First Amendment — which forbids the government from prohibiting free speech or establishing an official religion — take precedence over regulations established by the IRS concerning political speech from the pulpit of a house of worship. Anthony Picarello, vice president and general counsel for the Becket Fund, says the first mistake most churches make when they are confronted with an IRS investigation is keeping quiet about it. He recommends they go public.

“Make sure that the world knows about what’s going on,” he suggests. “I think that’s one of the best approaches that a church can take when it’s confronted with this sort of investigation.” The attorney believes the federal agency does not have the resources to fight drawn-out battles against churches and cannot afford the kind of negative publicity such cases generate.

Picarello says groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State frequently file complaints against churches when their pastors address politics from the pulpit. Those churches, he says, should call his group.

“What we’ve taken a stand on is the ability of any minister of any faith to preach on any topic — political or otherwise, short of an incitement to violence — from the pulpit,” he explains. “That is precisely the kind of freedom that the First Amendment protects.”

The Becket Fund spokesman says if the IRS pursues penalizing churches, synagogues, or mosques for what their ministers say from the pulpit, “then the IRS is going to have a fight on its hands.” He says his firm will defend any pastor’s statement from the pulpit that does not involve an incitement to commit violence.

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