Becket Fund Challenges IRS Position on Political Speech From the Pulpit “Neither the Supreme Court nor any other court has ever upheld denying government benefits merely for preaching sincerely held religious beliefs from the pulpit, “ – Kevin J. Hasson, chairman of the Becket Fund
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, DC.-Becket said today that it has mailed a letter to approximately 300,000 churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to challenge the quadrennial warning—by both the Internal Revenue Service and separation-of-church-and-state groups—that political speech from the pulpit could result in the loss of their tax-exempt status.
“Every election year, well-funded groups that oppose true freedom of speech and religious exercise attempt to gag leaders like you,” the letter states, “usually by sending letters that contain tendentious statements about federal tax law and your constitutional rights.”
Becket—a non-profit, non-partisan public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—says in the letter that it is writing to debunk such exaggerated threats and to offer free legal defense to any religious body threatened by the IRS.
“Neither the Supreme Court nor any other court has ever upheld denying government benefits merely for preaching sincerely held religious beliefs from the pulpit, “ notes Kevin J. Hasson, chairman of Becket.
The letter argues that though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld tax penalties against non-religious charities for political activity, there is a difference of constitutional significance when religious ministers speak from the pulpit to their own congregations. The First Amendment, says Becket, protects any good faith religious message from the pulpit, whether politically motivated or otherwise.
“What the IRS and groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State are doing,” Hasson says, “is just trying to scare religious leaders—and the threats, unfortunately, do have a chilling effect on them.”
He adds in the letter that there is a historical tradition of preaching freely from the pulpit stretching back to, and before, the election of Abraham Lincoln.
“We acknowledge that the IRS disagrees with us, but the IRS does not have the last word, the courts do,” Hasson emphasizes.
The issue is timely. The Catholic League recently threatened to file a complaint with the IRS against a church in Miami, FL, for engaging in what the South Florida Sun-Sentinel called a “political rally.” Becket has contacted the church to discuss the possibility of providing free legal assistance should it be necessary.
More information on the freedom to preach from the pulpit can be found on Becket’s website devoted to the issue — www.freepreach.org.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at email@example.com or at 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more). ”