Houses of worship should obey federal tax law and stay out of partisan politics, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has advised religious leaders in a national mass mailing.
Americans United has sent over 60,000 letters to clergy across the country to remind them that federal law prohibits tax-exempt entities, such as houses of worship, from endorsing candidates for public office.
“People don’t join churches because they want to be told how to vote,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Our letter reminds religious leaders about what the law requires, why it makes sense and how it could affect them.”
AU sent letters to a wide range of Christian denominations as well as synagogues and mosques.
Said Lynn, “Most clergy of all faiths know it’s inappropriate to use their pulpits to stump for political candidates. But there are very vocal misguided religious and political forces that constantly prod religious leaders to violate federal tax law. We urge clergy to just say no.”
The mass mailing comes as Religious Right groups are stepping up their efforts to persuade pastors to politicize their pulpits. This weekend, the Family Research Council (FRC) is holding its annual “Values Voter Summit” in Washington, D.C., an event that is essentially a religion-based rally for Republican candidates.
The FRC and the American Family Association have also sponsored an “iPledge Sunday” project to encourage hundreds of evangelical churches to get involved in the election.
Next month, the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right legal group founded by TV and radio preachers, is urging conservative Christian pastors to violate tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit on the so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” Oct 7.
With so much going on, Americans United says, some clergy may be confused about what tax-exempt houses of worship can and can’t do. To help clear the air, Americans United is sending out thousands of informational letters and making various resources about church politicking available through a website called projectfairplay.org.
Several recent polls, Lynn noted, have shown a majority of Americans oppose pulpit politicking. Americans of all political persuasions and faith backgrounds are increasingly saying they want their houses of worship to unite people, not divide them by introducing partisan politics.
“Church-based electioneering divides congregations and communities, violates federal tax law and diverts attention from the true mission of religious communities,” Lynn said. “It’s simply not good for anyone.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.