The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, asking a Wisconsin federal court to order the IRS to enforce the 1954 Johnson Amendment.
Under that law, the IRS has required churches to censor their sermons, forbidding non-profits and churches from engaging in politics, and taking away their tax-exempt status if they do.
President Trump issued an Executive Order in May, stating the IRS should not enforce the regulations. FFRF then filed its lawsuit, calling on the IRS to start enforcing the amendment.
A group of religious leaders told the court this week that the government nor FFRF should be allowed to edit sermons.
In the case, the proposed defendant-intervenors are Rev. Charles Moodie of Chicago City Life Center, Wisconsin-based Pastor Koua Vang of Hmong Baptist Ministry, Father Patrick Malone and Father Malone's church, Holy Cross Anglican Church of Milwaukee.
The non-profit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing these leaders.
Becket asked the Court to reject FFRF's lawsuit as a violation of the separation of church and state, writing, "There is a reason that the IRS has never actually enforced its regulations against internal church speech: because it knows it won't hold up against a First Amendment defense."
"Even in the context of public governmental religious speech, courts have been clear that '(g)overnment may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.' Town of Greece, 134 S. Ct. at 1822 (upholding legislative prayer). That is even more true for the internal church teachings at issue here," Becket continued.
"Pastors, priests, imams, and rabbis shouldn't have to get the IRS's permission just to preach candidly to their congregations," said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel at Becket. "IRS sermon censorship is bad for the church and it's bad for the state. This is one place where a little more separation of church and state would go a long way."
"While Americans have good-faith disagreements about religion and politics, we should all agree that the taxman has no business telling religious leaders what to say during worship services," he continued.