The Freedom From Religion Foundation has won an initial victory in a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service, but it may be a short-lived victory.
Wisconsin-based FFRF sued in that state to force the IRS to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which requires pastors and other tax-exempt groups to be silent in terms of endorsing political candidates.
Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Erik Stanley tells OneNewsNow the atheist organization won an initial ruling allowing the IRS lawsuit to proceed.
“But I would be surprised if they're ultimately successful,” says Stanley, noting that the federal judge “expressed some doubts” about whether the atheist group could obtain the relief it was seeking in the courts.
“This is really an unprecedented lawsuit,” says Stanley, “and I'd be surprised if it's ultimately successful.”
The co-president of the FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor, said in statement that the “free ride for churches is over,” referring to their tax-exempt status, and claimed that if churches are allowed to engage in “tax-exempt politicking,” it “would be the ruination of our democracy.”
Elsewhere in her statement, the atheist leader claimed that “the rest of us pay so much more in taxes because clergy pay so much less,” apparently unaware that many pastors are considered self-employed. The self-employment tax in 2013 is 15.3 percent of income.
Stanley says the lawsuit is a misdirected effort by FFRF to permanently deny pastors and non-profits freedom of speech.
“That's really what Freedom From Religion Foundation is after. They do not want pastors to be able to speak freely from their pulpit,” says Stanley. “They want government control over the pulpits of America. That's not freedom from religion. That is hostility to religion by the government.”
ADF has conducted “Pulpit Freedom Sundays” since 2008 in which pastors are encouraged to speak from the pulpit about political issues and candidates.
The IRS has yet to challenge the churches, but if they do ADF has pledged to defend them and challenge the constitutionality of the Johnson Amendment.