Thirty-three churches that broke the law on Sunday to publicly endorse a candidate for president say they did so to challenge a ban they call unconstitutional. Opponents, however, are calling it an attempt by Christian fundamentalist to expand their political power and influence over national politics, while simultaneously opposing gay marriage rights.

The event, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, seeks to challenge a federal amendment to the tax code passed by Congress in 1954 that forbids charitable organizations from intervening in political campaigns, and was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund.

Participants say they only want to have the freedom to express their Bible-based viewpoints.

“The basic thrust was this was not a matter of endorsing, it's a First Amendment issue,” Jody Hice, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Georgia, told The Associated Press. “To say the church can't deal with moral and societal issues if it enters into the political arena is just wrong, it's unconstitutional.”

But opponents frame the issue very differently. The Rev. Barry Lynn, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The New York Times that the event was more about changing the law to give certain conservative churches more political clout than an act of civil disobedience.

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) Director of Communications Steve Ralls said what the ministers were doing was no different than its treatment of gays and lesbians.

“Right-wing extremists have long chosen to ignore the constitutional right of [gay and lesbian] Americans to be treated fairly, and equally, under the law. Now they have chosen an all-out assault on the law, effectively shredding the constitution itself, by refusing to acknowledge any separation of church and state,” Ralls wrote us in an email.

Another gay activist called the ministers “arrogant” for believing they were above the law.

“These ministers call our [gay and lesbian] fight for equality special rights,” said Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a group dedicated to exposing the ex-gay myth. “When in reality, they believe they are above the law.”

The purported objective of Pulpit Freedom Sunday – endorsement of a pro-Christian presidential candidate by clergy – simultaneously attacks gay rights and marriage. And that's not a coincidence.

Indeed, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is a Christian fundamentalist organization that is opposed to all forms of abortion, gay marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay couples, adoption or fostering of children by gay people, and gays and lesbians serving in the military. The ADF also works to establish Christian public prayer in schools and government events, and supports teaching an abstinence-only sex education curriculum in the nation's schools.

The organization was formed by influential right-wing, anti-gay conservatives in 1994 including, Campus Crusade for Christ Founder Bill Bright, Crown Financial Ministries Founder Larry Burkett, Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, Coral Ridge Ministries Founder D. James Kennedy, and American Family Association Founder Donald Wildmon.

James Dobson's controversial Love Won Out ex-gay conferences promote the notion that gays and lesbians can be “cured” through religious faith, while Donald Wildmon has organized boycotts against Ford Motor Company and McDonald's for their support of the “gay agenda.”

Dobson and Wildmon's organizations alone have donated a combined $1 million to support a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in California, according to

ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears is the author of The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today.

All ministers who participated in the event, and whose sermons have been made public, endorsed Senator John McCain over Senator Barrack Obama for president, citing Obama's support for gays and lesbians and abortion rights as anti-Christian.

“[Obama's positions on abortion and gay unions are] in direct opposition to God's truth as he has revealed it in the Scriptures,” Rev. Ron Johnson Jr. told worshipers at his Living Stones Church in Crown Point, Indiana, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The prohibition that has kept clergy from pulpit politicking over the past 54 years does so only in their official capacity. Clergy are free to endorse any candidate as a member of society. And churches may sermonize on social issues and legislation, such as California, Arizona and Florida's ballot initiatives that seek to ban gay marriage in each state.

“It seems these churches are more interested in political posturing and campaigning than religion,” Besen said.