Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal firm, told an audience of pastors who assembled as part of Glenn Beck's weekend-long "Restoring Unity" event on Friday that he wants to "dispel the myths" about what churches can and can't do when it comes to politics.
"If we look at churches, churches are unique entities — churches are different than any other non-profit organization," he said. "You don’t have anything to fear about speaking out."
Staver's comments on politics and the pulpit come a year after the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, waged a battle against the IRS, claiming that the tax authority has not been holding churches accountable to rules restricting politics from the pulpit.
When it comes to lobbying, Staver told the pastors and faith leaders, though, that churches are not precluded from commenting for or against specific legislation.
Liberty University attorney Mathew Staver, answers reporters questions outside a federal courthouse in Richmond, Thursday May 16, 2013 (Christopher Breedlove/AP)
"No church in the history of America has ever lost its tax exempt status for lobbying," he said.
That said, Staver noted that churches are limited under IRS rules when it comes to political endorsements.
"You can't say, 'This particular church by name supports or endorses this particular candidate,'" he said, noting again, though, that "no church in history" has lost its tax-exempt status.
Staver said that, despite not being able to endorse specific candidates, pastors can preach from the pulpit on any topic that is found in the Bible — and that's not all; houses of worship can also offer valuable voter information about candidates and incumbents, including inviting those individuals to speak to congregations about their personal faith and experiences.
"You can explain their positions," he said. "You can [hold] a candidate forum. It doesn’t matter whether they all come, you just invite them all."
Staver said that churches can even "register people to vote," as it is not considered a "political act."
"Dispel the myth that you're going to lose your tax exempt status," he said.
As TheBlaze previously reported, at the core of debate over politics at the pulpit is the Johnson Amendment, a controversial IRS code added in 1954 that precludes nonprofit organizations — churches included — from engaging in campaign activity.
Read more about the issue’s complex history here.
Find out more about “Restoring Unity” here.