Thursday, August 13, 2009

IRS Passes on Taking a Church to Court

A pastor in Warroad, Minnesota, joined many other pastors in 2008 who decided that the IRS keeping them from speaking about politics in church was not right. So Gus Booth decided he would preach as he thought he should and challenge the IRS if it came to that.

The preachers joining this cause have the support of the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of lawyers who defend against freedom of religion/speech issues (among other things). The movement started in earnest on September 28, 2008 when 31 preachers participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

The IRS notified the Warroad church that they would be investigating. But recently it has suspended the investigation. The IRS did not reveal why they are dropping their investigation, but Pastor Booth said he was disappointed. He wanted to bring the issue to the courts to help clarify law and IRS interpretation.

It's easy to understand the pastor's feelings. On the other hand, the issue is not closed. The IRS retains the right to open the investigation again. While my personal opinion is that the pastor is within his rights, I have zero confidence that the courts, especially the lower courts, would agree with my "legal opinion." (No, I'm not a lawyer or anything even close.)

However, the First Amendment says that Congress may not make a law prohibiting either free exercise of religion or free speech. It's hard for me to see how the IRS can censor speech with the threat of withdrawing tax-exempt status from a church that is primarily a house of worship, even if the pastor delves into politics now and then. Their primary purpose clearly is not as a political entity.

Read more about the Warroad story:

Warroad pastor's IRS case closed, for now

And read more about Pulpit Freedom Sunday on the Alliance Defense Fund site:

ADF prepared to defend churches against possible IRS free speech investigations

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