A group promoting pastors’ First Amendment rights has announced an initiative to challenge the ban on endorsements of political candidates by tax-exempt organizations.

The Alliance Defense Fund said that it was encouraging pastors across the country to deliver a sermon on Sept. 28 in which they openly discuss the positions of political candidates, and said it would assist with their defense. The group opposes the efforts of another advocacy group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which asks the Internal Revenue Service to investigate instances of religious leaders endorsing or criticizing political candidates.

In 1954, Congress amended the Tax Code to allow the IRS to challenge the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that advocate for or against politicians. They are allowed to distribute voter guides, hold voter registration drives and public policy forums and invite politicians to speak. However, they are not permitted to endorse candidates or conduct political activity for or against particular candidates.

The Alliance Defense Fund hopes to set up a test case to get this provision of the Tax Code declared unconstitutional. In 2000, an appeals court upheld the IRS’s ability to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status for buying newspaper ads opposing Bill Clinton.

The IRS has been increasing its monitoring of political activity by tax-exempt organizations before the elections. The United Church of Christ has been under IRS review because of a speech given by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., at its national meeting this year.

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