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Opinion: Columnists

Did you hear about the 1,500 preachers breaking the law?

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Mark Tapscott,Columnists,Campaign 2012

Hundreds of preachers broke the law Oct. 7 in a calculated act of civil disobedience aimed squarely at the IRS. Odds are, however, you didn't hear about "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

The reason you didn't is that most of the lawbreakers minister to fundamentalist, evangelical or other conservative Protestant congregations and espouse political views supporting traditional notions of marriage, family and patriotism. Think Franklin Graham.

Had they instead been devotees of radical liberation theology preaching the anti-war, anti-American nostrums of the far Left -- think Jeremiah Wright -- their law-breaking sermons would have been front-page news across the country.

Notwithstanding such double standards in news coverage, what is said by preachers on Sunday shouldn't make any difference to the IRS, because the First Amendment guarantees every American -- including ministers of the Gospel -- freedom of religion and speech.

That's exactly the point of the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund). The ADF consists of thousands of lawyers across the country who work together to defend religious liberty.

The group started Pulpit Freedom Sunday in 2008, with only 33 participating pastors. Participation has grown every year since then, with many of the more than 1,500 pastors sending tapes of their sermons to the IRS this year.

They want the IRS to prosecute at least one of them. If the government does, it will most likely be enforcing an obscure provision of the tax code authored by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson in 1954.

Johnson sought to punish a handful of political opponents who were associated with secular tax-exempt 501(C)(3) foundations. To get back at them, the spiteful LBJ authored an amendment to a tax reform bill that banned partisan political speech by those representing exempt foundations.

It wasn't intended to be used against pastors, but over time, the IRS began enforcing the LBJ regulation against churches. Since most folks go to church to hear about the true God, not about Washington politicians who think they are gods, nobody paid much mind, especially when offenders had endorsed specific partisan candidates.

More recently, however, this ban on political speech is being used by those on the Left not just to prevent endorsement of partisan candidates, but to silence the expression of opposition views on a growing range of "social" issues.

But aren't Christians supposed to "submit to the governing authorities," according to Saint Paul? Breitbart.com legal contributor Ken Klukowski explains that "these pastors also understand that in this country the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land, and that any federal statute violating the Constitution is not the law and lacks any authority."

But there often are miles and miles of unexplored territory between here and knowing whether a specific command or regulation actually violates the Constitution and merits civil disobedience. That's why we have courts and judges.

The disobedient pastors, especially those who send their tapes to the IRS, want the government to punish at least one from their number, so the constitutionality of the Johnson regulation can be weighed by a legitimate authority.

I just hope these folks have thought this process completely through, including what they will do if the same Supreme Court that legalized abortion and approved Obamacare's individual mandate concludes there is nothing wrong with IRS censorship of preachers in their pulpits.

That's when we will find out who is really serious about civil disobedience.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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