The Internal Revenue Service says it has closed an investigation into a Minnesota pastor’s sermons just before the 2008 election that addressed the moral qualifications of the political candidates.
According to a letter posted online by the Alliance Defense Fund, which created a Pulpit Freedom Sunday to challenge IRS censorship of pastors’ speech, the Dallas, Texas, office of the IRS notified Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn., the review was being closed.
“The IRS may commence a future inquiry to address the concerns described … after it resolves [a] procedural issue,” said the letter, signed by Sunita B. Lough.
The ADF said Pastor Gus Booth had preached on moral issues as a part of the Alliance Defense Fund’s Pulpit Initiative last year.
“Booth originally sent the IRS a copy of a sermon he preached in May 2008 with regard to the primary elections. After participating in the Pulpit Initiative’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sept. 28, Booth also sent the agency his sermon regarding the general election. After launching an audit of the church in August 2008, the IRS has now stated in a letter that it is closing its examination of the sermons due to a procedural problem,” the ADF said.
“Pastors have a right to speak freely from their pulpits. Something is very wrong in America when free speech is held hostage by bungling bureaucracies,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.
“This latest action from the IRS continues to leave churches in limbo when it comes to speaking freely from their pulpits. It illustrates everything that is wrong with the current enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. After an 11-month audit, it is disingenuous for the IRS to simply close the file and walk away as if nothing happened.”
Since the Johnson Amendment was added to the Federal Tax Code in 1954, the IRS has issued increasingly vague guidance on the law, which limits the First Amendment rights of pastors speaking from the pulpit.
But the ADF said the IRS has continued to launch investigations while avoiding court review of the constitutionality of its actions.
“The IRS apparently has no desire to clarify the law for churches and has studiously avoided a court confrontation over this issue for years,” Stanley explained. “They continue to vaguely interpret the law, leave churches guessing as to what the law actually means, and enforce the Johnson Amendment through fear and intimidation.”
ADF attorneys say the IRS could have continued its investigation of Warroad Community Church and reached a conclusion on the merits of the case, which they argue is the unconstitutionality of the Johnson Amendment.
“Instead of standing and fighting in court, the IRS prefers to run the other way,” said Stanley. “ADF would likely have waived any complaint about procedural concerns involved in the investigation stage of the audit in order to reach the merits of the case and clarify the law. Once a federal court has an opportunity to review the Johnson Amendment, we believe it will not take long for the court to strike it down as unconstitutional. Pastors have the right to preach from their pulpits on all issues, including candidates and elections. No pastor should fear the IRS.”
The ADF said dozens of pastors participated in the Pulpit Freedom Sunday. They used Sept. 28, 2008, to address the moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office.
WND reported when the IRS said it was dropping a two-year investigation into another church – this one in Kansas – over similar issues.
One of his messages said, “Sebelius accepted $100,000 from abortionist Tiller, price of 1,000 babies.” A separate posting repeated President Obama’s statement from a campaign speech about sex education: “I don’t want [my daughters] punished with a baby.”
The notice Holick received from the IRS warned him about putting his Christian beliefs on the sign, and he responded that he would continue to preach the Word of God.
He explained the signs all “are spiritual messages that communicate God’s truth or are directly related to messages in the Bible.” He also provided the IRS with a list of dozens of biblical instructions, including “to lift up Jesus, to rebuke sin, to save babies, to be honest, to take a righteous stand.”