Reporting Violations to the IRS

Although Americans United’s emphasis is always on educating clergy, lay leaders and congregants in the hopes of heading off violations of the “no-politicking” law, there are, unfortunately, instances every year of blatant violations of the law. Some of these are due to a lack of knowledge about the law, but most are not. A large Religious Right group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has been prodding pastors to openly violate the law. Every election year, ADF hosts a mis-named event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” during which pastors are urged to endorse or oppose candidates during sermons.

In cases of clear violations of the law, Americans United has in the past sent complaints to the Internal Revenue Service. In recent years, we have urged the individuals who have contacted us with examples of pulpit politicking to file their own complaints, pointing them to a form on the IRS website that can be used for this purpose. The idea is to show the IRS that this issue is of concern to a growing number of Americans and that they want to see the law enforced.

Encouraging The IRS to uphold the law

Americans United has been working diligently for decades to encourage the Internal Revenue Service to fully enforce the law that prohibits partisan pulpit politicking. In 1992, AU filed a complaint against a church in New York that had placed a full-page ad in a newspaper telling people not to vote for Bill Clinton for president. That church subsequently had its tax-exemption revoked. In the wake of that incident, several other houses of worship received warnings from the IRS over instances of endorsement of or opposition to candidates for public office.

For a number of reasons, enforcement has slowed since then. Americans United continues to encourage the IRS to step up enforcement. (The tax agency says enforcement mechanisms are in place.) In the most recent development, Americans United launched a petition effort that seeks to persuade the IRS to crack down on blatant violation of the law.