‘I’m from the government and I’m here to rewrite your sermon’

Feared federal agency using ‘intimidation’ to ‘chill speech’ of pastors

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Imagine uttering the words “pro-life” in your church and finding yourself targeted by an investigation from the feared and reviled Internal Revenue Service.

An expert on the First Amendment conflict between pastors and the federal agency, which says it is investigating speech delivered from pulpits, confirms that’s possible.

Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel for the Becket Fund, told WND a recent case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the IRS raises the prospect of investigations of pastoral speech.

FFRF demanded that the IRS investigate sermons, focusing on certain politically charged “code words.”

But the case suddenly was dismissed at the request of FFRF, which said it was satisfied because the IRS agreed to adopt standards for determining whether churches and religious organizations are complying with restrictions on political activity. The case was dismissed without prejudice, so FFRF could file another lawsuit if it believes the IRS is not following through with its promise.

Blomberg said the case was brought by the foundation to force the IRS to attend church services and launch investigations.

But the abrupt closure left many questions unanswered, he said.

“That’s part of the problem,” he said. “The way the case was closed out. [It looks like] the FFRF collaborated with the IRS, getting their own case dismissed.”

He said still in question is what the IRS will allow ministers to say and in what context.

There are hints from the past. In 1993, the IRS issued guidance for its agents stipulating what a preacher can say during an election campaign.

“Talking about a pro-life cause, the importance of voting pro-life … those can be ‘code words’ that the IRS can use to come after the church,” Blomberg said.

“It is intimidating. What it is is speech police. That’s what’s going on,” he continued. “It’s a chill on speech. Even if you never lose tax exempt status, never personally face an excise tax, it’s … the specter of being investigated.”

Written By: Bob Unruh of WND where you can read his (this) full and complete article

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