Such blatant politicking from the pulpit will taunt the IRS, daring it to try to remove two churches' tax exemptions.
Two Minnesota clergymen plan to thumb their noses at the federal government Sunday by endorsing political candidates from their pulpits.
In doing so, they hope the IRS will come after them, allowing them to wage a legal fight asserting their First Amendment right of freedom of speech.
"I'm going to violate the law and challenge it because I believe it to be entirely unconstitutional," said the Rev. Brad Brandon, pastor of the Berean Bible Baptist Church in Hastings. "I'd like to see something happen so I can get my free speech rights restored."
In St. Peter, the Rev. Greg Stone plans to do the same from the pulpit of the Jesus Assembly of God Church.
It's part of a nationwide movement to assert clergy members' right to endorse political candidates.
Since 2008, pastors across the country have been endorsing candidates on what they call "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," in the hopes of provoking the IRS. But after investigating the cases, the agency has dropped them and IRS officials have declined to say why they did so.
For more than a half-century, the tax code has prohibited clergy from endorsing candidates. Doing so can lead to the loss of a church's tax-exempt status.
"If we lose that, it may cost the church money, but my freedom's not for sale," Brandon said. "We're either going to draw the IRS out to come after us or prove this whole thing is obsolete."
The most high-profile case of clergy defiance in Minnesota occurred two years ago, when a pastor in Warroad (and Republican National Convention delegate) endorsed GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Two years earlier, the pastor of a Brooklyn Park mega church endorsed Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The Pulpit Freedom Sunday project is backed by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian nonprofit founded by influential leaders of the religious right.
According to the pulpit project, "today, more than ever, a pastor's voice must be heard, and Biblical truth must be brought to bear on current issues, including those of candidates and elections. Pastors do have the right to speak Biblical truth from the pulpit without fear of censorship or punishment from the government."
Brandon, who hosts a talk radio show called "Word of Truth," said he also will be printing up pamphlets.
Describing himself as a "conservative Christian," he declined to say who will get his endorsement Sunday but said the candidates are running in "major" statewide and congressional campaigns.
On his radio program, he said GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer likely will be among his endorsees.
Although Stone did not return calls seeking comment, he has promoted Pulpit Freedom Sunday on the church's Facebook page.
On Friday, someone posted this comment on the page, "I guess the laws don't apply to you. boooo. Let's see you start paying your fair share of taxes."
Although the 100-plus clergy members nationwide who are endorsing candidates this year appear to lead conservative and evangelical congregations, Brandon said the protests aren't strictly ideological or theological.
"Liberal members of the clergy are just as hindered by this prohibition as I am," he said. "This is one of the areas of the culture where rights are being denied."
Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184