In a direct challenge to the IRS, a group of pastors endorsed specific political candidates yesterday while preaching from their churches’ pulpits.

The event, known as Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund. Its purpose is to challenge the IRS’s ban on church leaders endorsing individual candidates from their churches.

Currently, pastors who make such endorsements risk having their churches’ tax-free status revoked by the IRS.

The Alliance Defense Fund contends this is an unconstitutional violation of churches’ right of free speech.

One of the participating pastors, the Rev. Fran Pultro of Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway in Philadelphia, told his congregation they should support the Republican presidential ticket in the 2008 election.

“As Christians it’s clear we should vote for John McCain,” said Pultro, The Wall Street Journal reported. “He is the only candidate I believe a Christian can vote for.”

The U.S. bishops do not support the initiative, as the Register reported here earlier this month.

Even if there weren’t potential consequences to a church’s tax status, the bishops say endorsing candidates from the pulpit is “pastorally inappropriate, theologically unsound and politically unwise.”

— Tom McFeely