Atheist group sues over religious electioneering

Associated Press Modified: November 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm •  Published: November 15, 2012
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The lawsuit also refers to "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," a national event on Oct. 7 in which more than 1,500 pastors endorsed a candidate from the pulpit and then sent a record of their statement to the IRS, hoping their challenge would eventually end up in court.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has organized the event since 2008. The group considers the IRS regulations against bringing partisan politics to the pulpit an unconstitutional government intrusion.

For the past three years, the IRS hasn't been investigating complaints of partisan political activity by churches, leaving religious groups who make direct or thinly veiled endorsements of political candidates unchallenged.

The IRS monitors religious and other nonprofits on everything from salaries to spending, and that oversight continues. However, Russell Renwicks, a manager in the IRS Mid-Atlantic region, said in October that the agency had suspended audits of churches suspected of breaching federal restrictions on political activity. A 2009 federal court ruling required the IRS to clarify which high-ranking official could authorize audits over the tax code's political rules. The IRS has yet to do so.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation, which says it has 19,000 members nationwide, frequently files lawsuits challenging potential violations of the separation of church and state.

In recent years it has challenged the legality of the National Day of Prayer, the placement of a cross on a war memorial in Rhode Island, and praying before sporting events and other activities at the University of Tennessee.

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