More than 1,000 pastors plan to openly defy the IRS by telling their congregations on October 7 to vote for a particular presidential candidate, according to Fox News.
The annual event, dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," has been organized by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom. The pastors participating in the event plan to preach about the election, endorse a candidate, and send a video of their sermon to the IRS.
"The purpose is to make sure that the pastor - and not the IRS - decides what is said from the pulpit," Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told FoxNews.com. "It is a head-on constitutional challenge."
The Johnson amendment in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. The IRS has been reluctant to revoke churches' tax-exempt status for violating the more than 50-year-old IRS rule, but the agency has issued written warnings to dozens of churches.
"The IRS will send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line," Jim Garlow, a senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, told FoxNews.com. "But when it's time to go to court, they close the case."
The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to force the IRS to take churches to court and have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.
Americans United for Church and State has pushed back against the event, sending letters to 60,000 houses of worship that urge them to obey federal tax law.
"People don't join churches because they want to be told how to vote," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Our letter reminds religious leaders about what the law requires, why it makes sense and how it could affect them.
"Most clergy of all faiths know it's inappropriate to use their pulpits to stump for political candidates," he added. "But there are very vocal misguided religious and political forces that constantly prod religious leaders to violate federal tax law. We urge clergy to just say no."
In response, the Alliance Defending Freedom accused Americans United for Church and State of trying to "intimidate churches into silence."