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Pastors who play politics from the pulpit

On Oct. 2, a large group of American pastors plans to purposely violate a law barring houses of worship from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This legal challenge from the pulpit won't help people of faith.

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On Oct. 2, hundreds of Christian pastors are expected to engage in a mass act of civil disobedience across the United States. From their Sunday pulpits, they plan to purposely violate a federal law by openly opposing or endorsing political candidates.

Why break the law on purpose?

These pastors, most of them evangelical, are part of an effort to bait the Internal Revenue Service into fining one of the churches or taking away its tax-exempt status. If the IRS takes the bait, then that case will be challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court in hopes of overturning the law.

The law bars houses of worship and other types of nonprofits from participating in political campaigns on behalf of – or in opposition to – any candidate for public office. It was passed in 1954 with help from then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson after nonprofit groups nearly defeated him in an election. Up until then, American churches were free to align with politicians – or rail against them.

The group pushing this legal test, the Alliance Defense Fund, has been enlisting more and more pastors since 2008. The yearly autumn protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, is timed just before elections. Many participating pastors are eager to turn the US into “a Christian nation” by playing a direct role in politics.

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