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Supreme Court of the United States

Atheists sue IRS for not Enforcing the Johnson Amendment against Pastors

October 17, 2017

Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court against the IRS for failing to enforce the Johnson Amendment in the tax code against pastors and churches.  The lawsuit requests the court to enter an injunction against the Commissioner of the IRS to prohibit him from "continuing a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations."  One of the issues the complaint raises as an example is Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The complaint states: "More than 1500 clergy reportedly violated 501(c)(3) on October 7, 2012, in a deliberate and coordinated display of noncompliance with the electioneering restrictions of 501(c)(3), including prominent megachurches."  The complaint goes on to allege that the IRS non-enforcement of the Johnson Amendment results in favoritism toward churches in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Legally speaking, this complaint has no merit and should be summarily dismissed.  As I detailed in an earlier blog, the IRS is not following a policy of non-enforcement.  Churches must remember that the IRS has not given up on auditing churches or enforcing the Johnson Amendment.

The lawsuit also has an insurmoutable legal hurdle in its way.  In order to bring a lawsuit against the federal government, a plaintiff must prove that it will be harmed in a specific and concrete way that is different from the harm experienced generally by the public at large.  It will be difficult, if not impossible, for FFRF to prove that it is being harmed by the IRS' delay in enforcing the Johnson Amendment.

This lawsuit is really about two things.  First, it is about generating publicity for Freedom From Religion Foundation.  A quick lawsuit, even if it gets dismissed at a later point, can earn some headlines.  But secondly, this lawsuit is about fostering FFRF's radical agenda.  FFRF, a group of radical separationist atheists, envisions a future where the tax code is used against churches and pastors to punish them for speaking out on issues of candidates and elections.  It wants to see pulpit police in the churches of America, and fines and penalties meted out if a pastor crosses whetever line the government chooses to draw.  Ultimately, FFRF does not want people of faith to have a voice in the public square.  It wantswhat its name says - freedom from religion.  And that is where its agenda is at odds with the fundamental rights of America's churches and pastors.

I expect for this lawsuit to be dismissed and hope to be able to bring you news of that dismissal.  But do not be fooled, groups like FFRF will not stop and will continue to push their radical agenda of silencing churches and pastors.  America's churches are a crucial component to the survival of our country.  The voice of the church must be free to impact culture and society and as the liberty of the church is restricted, society and culture suffers and declines.  That's why Alliance Defending Freedom created the Church Project - to defend the right of the Church to be the Church.  If your church's rights are threatened or violated, please contact us so our attorneys can help.