Abbot, Small Church Fight Atheists’ Bid to Force IRS to Censor Church Sermons

Image: Abbot, Small Church Fight Atheists’ Bid to Force IRS to Censor Church Sermons

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 13, 2013
Contact: Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224

Washington, D.C. –The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, on behalf of an Anglican priest and his church, Holy Cross Anglican Church , moved to intervene in a lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) seeking to force the IRS to punish houses of worship for preaching on moral issues in a way that has political implications.

The Becket Fund is intervening to defend Father Patrick Malone’s right to preach from the pulpit to his 55-member congregation at Holy Cross Anglican Church free from IRS censorship. While the IRS has long banned sermons that concern political candidates or certain hot-button moral issues, it has generally avoided enforcing the ban against churches. The anti-religious FFRF noticed, and is now suing in a Wisconsin-based federal district court to force the IRS to start enforcing the ban against churches like Holy Cross.

“Given recent IRS abuses, only a group like FFRF could want to force the IRS into the sermon censorship business,” said Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund. “Ministers preaching the truth to power helped start the American Revolution, stop slavery, and end racial segregation. Despite what FFRF wants, the tax man has no role in editing sermons.”

As the vicar of Holy Cross, Father Malone—who is also a Benedictine abbot—has a duty to provide religious guidance to his congregation on how to faithfully live as Christians. Under Anglican theology, this includes seeking justice and protecting the disadvantaged in society, especially those who are threatened by unjust laws. Father Malone believes that reversing unjust laws requires rejecting unjust lawmakers, and thus preaches openly about both.

Now FFRF wants the IRS to punish Father Malone and the Church for his sermons, by imposing laws that would revoke the Church’s tax-exempt status, involve the IRS in the Church’s finances, and levy fines against both the Church and individual leaders, such as Father Malone.

“While there’s room for religious disagreement over whether the pulpit should preach politics,” Blomberg said, “Everyone should agree that the IRS shouldn’t be the one making that theological decision—especially when it’s acting as FFRF’s attack dog.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 19 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. The Becket Fund recently won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys handling this case, please contact Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224.

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