The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sued the Internal
Revenue Service in an effort to force the agency to crack down
Churches increasingly have spoken out on social issues,
including those on the ballot, and some pastors endorsed candidates
leading up to the election, even though the Johnson Amendment
prohibits them from doing so.
"Well, I think this is just
further evidence that groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation
or Americans United for Separation of Church and State are trying
to use the Johnson Amendment in the tax code as a tool of
intimidation to silence and censor churches," contends Erik
Stanley, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation argues that churches and
religious organizations have become more involved in political
campaigns, "blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering
The lawsuit, filed in Wisconsin, cites several examples,
ads that ran this fall in The New York Times and other
newspapers by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that
featured a photo of renowned evangelist Billy Graham urging
Americans to vote along biblical principles. Graham met in October
with Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney and pledged to
do "all I can" to help him.
Stanley points out that FFRF filed the lawsuit against the IRS
in Wisconsin -- a politically liberal state.
"Well, the Freedom From Religion Foundation does like to file
lawsuits in friendly forums, and so they may think that this court
is going to be friendly or sympathetic to their pleas," Stanley
"But the fact of the matter is, this is really a nuisance
lawsuit; it doesn't have any legal basis whatsoever," he continues.
"The IRS cannot be forced to interpret the Johnson Amendment to
apply it in a particular way that Freedom From Religion Foundation
But the ADF attorney concludes that one thing is for certain:
the Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional. And if the IRS files
suit against a church, his organization, which has been encouraging
pastors to challenge the measure (see earlier story), is prepared to go to
FFRF's lawsuit argues that the IRS is not enforcing the federal
tax code, which prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from
electioneering. The suit says not enforcing it is a violation of
equal protection rights because the same preferential treatment is
not provided to other tax-exempt organizations such as the Freedom
from Religion Foundation.
The lawsuit asks that the IRS initiate legal action against any
churches or religious organizations that are believed to be
violating the restrictions.
Associated Press contributed to this story