MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Hundreds of pastors will break federal law this Sunday when they endorse a candidate for president. It's part of a growing movement called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."
According to the IRS, churches, which don't pay taxes, cannot participate in a campaign or endorse a politician but "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" has been going on for a few years. Pastors say they have the right of freedom of speech even when it comes to politics.
Reverend Dwight Montgomery is the pastor for Annesdale Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church. He is clearly not hiding who he's voting for this November. He wants to make sure his congregation votes the same way.
"Sunday morning I plan on preaching a dynamic sermon, give the benediction, stand on the floor of the pulpit, and endorse President Barack Obama," said Rev. Montgomery. “We need to use that influence and do the right thing and support the best candidate."
There's the problem: “influencing" others. According to the IRS Exemption Requirements Section 501, organizations that don't pay taxes, like churches, “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
“The penalty would be you no longer are tax exempt, you have to start paying taxes like everybody else,” said University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy.
Mulroy says pastors can educate people about voting and political issues but not endorse a specific candidate running for public office. Reverend Montgomery disagrees. He says the government is violating his First Amendment Right.
"A pastor has a responsibility to provide both spiritual and emotional and other needs of the members and when you talk about politics, politics affect us all,” Rev. Montgomery stated. “The reason why we have black elected officials now and in the past is because of the black church stood up and supported those candidates.”
Mulroy says if pastors preach about politics then expect to play by the government's rules and pay taxes.
"If you use the authority and resources of a church to endorse a particular candidate then you're putting your tax-exempt status in jeopardy, it's just the way it is,” said Mulroy.
Pastors participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday are calling this an act of "civil disobedience." They will record their sermons and send them to the IRS hoping the IRS will follow through on its threats of removing the "tax-exempt status" that way the pastors can bring this case to a judge to decide if it's a violation of their first amendment right.