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Sunday May 3rd, 2015 10:52AM

Georgia churches challenge IRS rules on politics

By Derreck Booth Anchor/reporter
ATLANTA - Dozens of Georgia's religious leaders, including one in Blairsville, are embracing a new movement to challenge a decades-old tax law that prohibits preaching about politics from the pulpit.

Several pastors in the state have openly criticized the law in recent weeks. The pastors say the Internal Revenue Service's rule is an intrusion on their free speech rights.

Other religious leaders have endorsed a political candidate. Some have even dared the federal government to sanction them for expressing their political preferences.

The stakes are high, as violating the rule could cost a church its tax-exempt status, costing it thousands of dollars.

``There are risks to be taken and I knowingly take those risks. But I refuse to compromise God's word and I refuse to be muzzled,'' Jerry Helton, who leads Blairsville's House of Prayer Interdenominational Church, said in a sermon earlier this month.

Helton is among at least 38 in Georgia who participated in ``Pulpit Freedom Sunday,'' a national movement sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom. The group says it will hire lawyers to support churches who were challenged by the Internal Revenue Service, but so far the federal government has steered clear of sanctioning participants.

In Blairsville, Helton stopped short of endorsing a candidate, but urged congregants to view the presidential election through a biblical lens. That perspective was echoed by preachers in both Alpharetta and downtown Atlanta Sunday, where they reminded their parishioners to vote on Nov. 6 and all but stated their presidential choice.
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