Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate four houses of worship for intervention in partisan politics.
Americans United said that most houses of worship appear to be following the law, but a few seem unwilling to do so. The four complaints to the IRS two involving Democrats and two involving Republicans come just one day before the national mid-term elections.
“Unfortunately, some churches allow candidate endorsements from the pulpit, distribute biased voter guides and host partisan rallies,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Such blatant electioneering by tax-exempt churches flouts federal law and threatens the integrity of religion.”
The churches reported today are:
• Bethel AME Church, Cambridge, Md.: The church hosted a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley and other Democratic candidates on Nov. 2. O’Malley and others sought votes and were introduced by the pastor. Churches may host educational forums featuring all candidates but not partisan rallies.
• Sioux City Baptist Church, Sioux City, Iowa: On Oct. 29, the church made available biased “voter guides” produced by the Iowa Christian Alliance, a 501(c)(4) organization. The guides violated several standards established by the IRS and were clearly stacked to favor Republican hopefuls.
• Mount Ennon Baptist Church, Clinton, Md.: The church’s pastor attacked Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele from the pulpit Nov. 5 while Steele’s opponent, Benjamin Cardin, sat in the front row.
• Lakeview Assembly of God, Hot Springs, Ark.: The church hosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson on Oct. 15. It placed an ad in the local newspaper inviting people to hear Hutchinson speak, identifying him as the GOP candidate. Hutchinson’s Democratic opponent was not on the program.
Lynn noted that the IRS earlier this year announced a crackdown on non-profit groups, including houses of worship, that violate the Internal Revenue Code by intervening in partisan campaigns. As part of that effort, the IRS has repeatedly warned about provisions in the federal tax code that bar partisan involvement in campaigns.
“No one can plead ignorance of the law,” Lynn said. “The word is out that electioneering by churches is illegal. Those who continue to flout the law should hear from the IRS.”
In addition to the four complaints filed today, Americans United has sought investigations into four other examples of church electioneering this year.
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.