There is a provision in the tax code, inserted into the law without debate in 1954 by then senator Lyndon Johnson, that requires nonprofit institutions, if they want to preserve their tax-exempt status, to not engage in political campaigns or try to influence legislation. (I went into this in some detail back in 2012.) Some churches have chafed under this restriction and beginning in 2008 decided to challenge it and for the past few years they have engaged in what they call Pulpit Freedom Sunday, usually timed a month before the November elections, giving explicitly political sermons, telling people how to vote, and even following it up by sending tapes of their sermons to the IRS, daring them to revoke their tax-exempt status. So far, the IRS has declined to do so.
Ted Cruz has made the defunding of Planned Parenthood his signature issue and is seeking to shut down the government if it does not do so. Thanks to reader Pteryxx Hyperion, I received this link about Cruz sending out to thousands of pastors a sermon that he has written urging the defunding of Planned Parenthood and encouraging them to use it today.
Like the rest of the GOP field, Cruz wants to end government grants to the health clinics but he is the first to take his case directly inside the churches while promoting his candidacy at the same time which is illegal and can put the churches’ non-profit status at risk.
According to the I.R.S.: “An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.”
I have no idea how good a sermon writer Ted Cruz is, though his father is a notorious fire-and-brimstone preacher. I certainly had no intention of going to church today just to find out but if any reader did, I am curious to see if preachers took up his offer to save them the trouble of preparing their own sermons.