Members of AAS and the Wesley Foundation Collegiate United Methodist Church drew many strange looks during our protest on Friday, September 26 in the Free Speech Area from 11am to 2pm. Our groups united in support of a shared ideal – that preachers should not endorse specific political candidates from the pulpit. The goal of this protest was to educate ISU students, faculty, and staff so they will know if they hear something illegal on Sunday.
The Alliance Defense Fund, an organization of conservative Christian lawyers, has been attempting to incite preachers across America to participate in their Pulpit Initiative, an effort to overturn IRS Tax Code that prevents agents of certain tax exempt organizations from speaking for or working for particular political candidates while they are working in their professional capacity. Essentially, the tax code prohibits partisan political action by organizations receiving special benefits from the state.
There seem to be two main issues with the Pulpit Initiative that AAS and the Wesley Foundation agree on:
1) the legal problem of endorsing one political party while having a protected government status with regard to taxes.
2) the ethical problem of preachers telling people what to vote for and how to think.
Atheists and Christians protest Pulpit Freedom Sunday
By James Pusey — Daily Staff Writer
Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, encouraged pastors to deliver sermons on Sept. 28 about the moral qualifications of presidential candidates, according to an ADF news release.
The Alliance Defense Fund is a legal alliance that works to protect religious freedoms and endorse traditional Christian values, according to the group’s Web site. The Pulpit Freedom Sunday is part of a program called The Pulpit Initiative, which protests restrictions on church officials endorsing political candidates.
Members of the ISU Atheists and Agnostics Society and representatives of Collegiate United Methodist Church & Wesley Foundation set up booths outside the Parks Library on Friday to voice their disapproval of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
Anastasia Bodnar, graduate student in agronomy, said she was glad the Atheists and Agnostic Society could work with the Wesley Foundation to speak out against Pulpit Freedom Sunday. She said it is clearly in opposition to laws concerning the separation of church and state, and if tolerated, would be harmful to both institutions.
“That’s not what churches are for,” Bodnar said. “They’re for spirituality and for helping people find their way in life, and charity, and all of these really good things. To take that and dirty it with our current political system, it’s really blasphemous.”
Pastor Jim Shirbroun, associate director of the Wesley Foundation and campus minister of Collegiate United Methodist, said churches that participated on Sunday are in danger of losing their tax exempt status.
“If they receive tax exemption, they shouldn’t spend money on supporting political candidates or political parties,” Shirbroun said. “It’s for charitable things, so they can help people — not to become politically involved.”
Pastor David Staff of First Evangelical Free Church, said he hadn’t heard about Pulpit Freedom Sunday, and even if he had, he wouldn’t have delivered a political sermon on Sunday.
“I don’t know of any pastor that is doing this. In fact, we’ve made it pretty clear to our congregation that we don’t want to endorse any candidate or political party,” Staff said.
Bodnar said pastors are allowed to speak about political issues, but endorsing candidates or donating money to a political campaign puts them in danger of losing their tax exemption.
The Alliance Defense Fund argues that it is a pastor’s constitutional right to preach political sermons and to recommend candidates to their congregation.
“They argue that their freedom of speech is being denied,” Bodnar said. “That’s a really sketchy argument because preachers are allowed to say anything about the issues. The only thing they’re not allowed to do is endorse a political candidate or donate to a campaign.”
Bodnar said the Alliance Defense Fund reported having only 36 pastors across the country on board with Pulpit Freedom Sunday, at last count. The Alliance Defense Fund said they would release the names of all participating pastors via news release after Sept. 28.