Debunking “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”
“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is the euphemistic (and misleading) name given to an effort by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) to urge pastors to violate federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.
The ADF, formed by a conglomeration of TV and radio preachers in the early 1990s, has become a leading Religious Right legal group working to erode church-state separation. The group argues that pastors have a First Amendment right to intervene in partisan politics while retaining their tax-exempt status. While this position was rejected by a federal appeals court in 2000, the ADF is determined to litigate the matter again. As part of this scheme, the group prods pastors to deliberately violate the law in order to spark a new test case. (The ADF also argues that tax exemption for houses of worship is a constitutional right, even though the concept is not mentioned in the Constitution.)
The ADF sponsors its “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” events in late September during election years. It has not proven to be a big hit with American pastors. Although there are thousands of faith communities in the United States, usually just a few dozen religious leaders take part in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” The initiative itself is highly partisan. During the previous ADF events, every church taking part either endorsed Republican candidates or attacked Democratic ones.
Americans United is working hard to counter “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Through Project Fair Play, Americans United maintains a regular program of education and monitoring to ensure that houses of worship and religious non-profits abide by federal laws relating to political activity. In years past, AU has reported churches taking part in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” to the IRS.
You can help. If you encounter evidence of religious leaders in your area violating the law by participating in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” please notify Americans United.