The Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian legal advocacy organization, is causing a bit of a stir with its call for clergy this Sunday to speak out about candidates for public office, in defiance of IRS regulations limiting political speech from the pulpit. (The regulations allow congregations, as tax-exempt organizations, to take positions on issues, but not on specific candidates.) The ADF is hoping that the event, which it has dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday,'' will lead to a test case challenging the regulations. An excerpt from the ADF's argument:
"It is time for the intimidation and threats to end. Churches and pastors have a constitutional right to speak freely and truthfully from the pulpit – even on candidates and voting – without fearing loss of their tax exemption."
In the Christian Science Monitor today, Jane Lampman reports that about 35 clergy around the country are expected to participate:
"I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I want to say, and I've never thought it was appropriate that as a pastor I could not share my political concerns with the congregation," says the Rev. Gus Booth, pastor at Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn. Mr. Booth will endorse Sen. John McCain on Sunday, and has already told his congregation that as Christians, they could not vote for Sen. Barack Obama due to his position on abortion.
But the restrictions have many defenders as well, among them Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance, which has launched a competing campaign to maintain the boundary between pulpits and politics. Gaddy said in a sermon last weekend:
"I cannot stress strongly enough my objections to turning houses of worship into pseudo-precinct nominating conventions. I am as concerned about what such a practice in houses of worship would do to the integrity and credibility of religion as about what it would do to weaken the Constitution.”
(Photo, shot in 1995, by the Detroit Free Press.)