Friday, June 18, 2010

S. Dakota Pastor Defies IRS Muzzle

The Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, last month endorsed GOP state Sen. Gordon Howie in the South Dakota governor's race, in defiance of the Internal Revenue Service and a federal court ruling and in hopes of producing a landmark constitutional test case.

-- From "Pastor tests IRS by endorsing candidate" by Michal Elseth, The Washington Times 6/15/10

A South Dakota minister says he wants to do for religious freedom what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did for civil rights.

At issue is an IRS regulation called the Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, that says that 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the section of the tax code under which most churches file, cannot endorse a specific political candidate and retain its nonprofit classification.

Mr. Howie's campaign, which had actively solicited support from the state's pastors, touted Mr. Williams' endorsement in a press release last month.

Mr. Williams said he will fight for his right to speak from the pulpit whatever he sees most fitting for his congregation, regardless of the consequences.

The Rapid City pastor is working with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative-leaning group that defends religious freedom.

Erik Stanley, an attorney for the organization, said the fund has been hoping that by encouraging pastors to break the federal tax code restrictions, they could get a test case to court and have the law declared an infringement of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The ban on political campaign activity does not restrict leaders of organizations from expressing their views on political matters if they are speaking for themselves as individuals. Nor are leaders prohibited from speaking about issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3), leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization.

The IRS has not indicated whether it will pursue an investigation of the South Dakota church.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.

From "Pastors divided over Howie's pulpit challenge" by Mary Garrigan, Rapid City Journal staff 5/24/10

One Rapid City pastor has accepted gubernatorial candidate Gordon Howie's challenge to defy federal tax law and endorsed Howie from the pulpit.

However, other local religious leaders have dismissed Howie's Pulpit Challenge initiative as legally and pastorally irresponsible.

"The Johnson Amendment was merely a rider to a tax code. It is unconstitutional, impossible to enforce, cannot stand up in a court of law and has never been enforced on any church since its passage," said Scott Craig, a Howie supporter who recently moved to Rapid City from Hawaii to pastor the new Bighorn Canyon Community Church. In 2008, Craig was one of 30 pastors who endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama from the pulpit and provided the IRS with video and written documentation. None of those churches have faced revocation of their tax-exempt status to date, but the IRS said some investigations are still open.

Craig believes churches are constitutionally guaranteed their tax-exempt status as part of the founding fathers' desire to promote freedom of religion and freedom of speech, not as a reward for refraining from political activity as part of a church-state separation issue. "It's important for the nation to reframe this whole question, not as a church-state separation issue, but as a free speech issue. Specifically endorsing candidates from the pulpit is not breaking the law, as the nation has been led to believe," he said.

Craig [said] pastors have a responsibility to educate their flock on God's laws, including which elected officials do the best job of following those laws. Pastors who don't are "not doing their jobs."

Since 2004, the IRS has conducted "limited examinations" of allegations of political activity by tax-exempt groups but has proposed revocation of 501(c)(3) status in only a few "egregious" cases, according to a 2008 letter from Steve Miller, an IRS commissioner.

To read the entire article above, CLICK HERE.