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WASHINGTON -- Pastors often refrain from talking politics so they won't catch the attention of the tax-man. But as the election of 2016 heats up, many are wondering what their legal limits actually are.
Pro-life leaders and legal tax experts held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to tell them they should stop worrying and start speaking out.
"Stop censoring yourself. That's what we're saying to the churches today," Father Frank Pavone, who leads Priests for Life, said. "There's a lot more we can do in elections than we think we can do."
"After more than 60 years of IRS intimidation and bullying, pastors absolutely engage in massive self-censorship," attorney Christiana Holcomb, with Alliance Defending Freedom, said. "But they don't have to."
"Our message here today is 'stop blaming the tax guy. Stop misrepresenting what the law really says. Step up to the plate and exercise your religious freedom,'" Pavone advised.
"Pastors have far more rights, even under current tax law than they even realize," Holcomb said. "They can engage in get-out-the-voter registration drives. They can engage in lobbying even. They can discuss the issues. Pastors can personally even endorse or oppose candidates."
Attorney James Bopp gives legal advice to Priests for Life. He said churches tend to fear the IRS far too much.
"While the IRS has vague and difficult to understand rules and limitations, actually when you come to the bottom line, they will not enforce the Internal Revenue Code against anybody unless they do what everybody would agree is politically intervening in a political campaign, like giving money to a candidate, passing the hat at a church service," Bopp told CBN News.
"When you get down to it, it's a lot of bluster and little actual enforcement except in the obvious cases," he said.
Janet Morana helped start the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (LINK http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/).
"Churches don't have to be restricted, and we can teach our people about our moral teachings of the Church, starting with abortion and other non-negotiable items when looking at a candidate," she said.
"Pastors can clearly talk about issues - like abortion - from the pulpit," Holcomb added.
Pavone insisted it's even essential pro-life pastors speak out.
"Let's step up to the plate and let's tell the people of God that they need to elect public servants who know the difference between serving the public and killing the public," he said.