Pastors Take Politics to the Pulpit, Defy IRS

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BELTSVILLE, Md. - Pastors are playing offense in the battle over the separation of church and state. Over the weekend, many of them participated in what's called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

The aim is to prompt a court challenge to overturn federal tax laws they say deprive them of their right to free speech.

The move means wading right into the middle of election-year politics.

Ahab and Jezebel

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., is known for speaking his mind.

Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is behind the Pulpit Freedom Sunday, spoke more about why he believes the current law is wrong. Click play for his comments, following this report.

On Sunday, he took it a step further, delivering a fiery sermon about the country's state of affairs and breaking the law by delivering a message designed to influence the 2012 election.

"The title of our message that we give you in the last few minutes is four reasons why I cannot support Barack Obama for president," he told his congregation.

Bishop Jackson used an Old Testament text to make his case, drawing a parallel to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and their attempts to silence the prophets of God.

Jackson noted that in the end justice and righteousness prevailed - but only after God's people spoke out.

The bishop talked more below about how it's crucial that Christians not allow their faith to take a back seat to race: 

During the service, he argued against re-electing the president based on major sticking points: abortion, same-sex marriage, the U.S.-Israeli alliance, and threats to religious liberty.

Jackson also endorsed a Maryland, pro-life Republican running for Congress and spoke out against a state-wide referendum that would make same-sex marriage legal in Maryland.

For his members, his words were timely and well-received.

"I agreed with everything," Hope Christian member Ed Daly told CBN News. "We've been pushed back far enough."

It's time to show our heart not only to the world but to God himself that we're not going to be cowards," he said. "We can't surrender to the grace and goodness and mercies that He has given us."

Pulpit Freedom

The church also defied a decades-old regulation by the Internal Revenue Service that allows churches and charitable organizations to operate as "tax exempt" so long as they don't directly, or indirectly, participate in any political campaigning on behalf or against any candidate.

If they do, churches risk losing their tax-exempt status.

The goal of the regulation, according to the IRS, is to place candidates for office beyond the reach of pastors speaking from the pulpit.

But a growing number of conservative religious leaders are taking a stand against the rule.

Pulpit Freedom Sunday started four years ago with a little more than 30 pastors participating. This year, that number skyrocketed to an estimated 1,500, with each of the pastors pledging to record their sermons and send them to the IRS.

For Bishop Jackson, though, he said he's less concerned about a government audit than he is about public backlash against him and his congregation.

"The backlash and the retribution, if you would, that could come from that community in the greater Washington, D.C.-area is much more intimidating than the IRS, in terms of my members have to deal with what other people say," he said.

Critics, even some clergy, say it's more important to lift up the name of Jesus than political candidates.

But for Bishop Jackson and others, they say the issues at stake are too grave to remain silent.

"And, finally, I came to a conclusion that you can't just lay out a case and not name names," he said.

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