Dec 11, 2007

An Alabama political group that has endorsed U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president should drop its plan to distribute Democratic Party sample ballots in churches, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn says the plan by the Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) violates federal tax law.

“The law is crystal clear: Houses of worship can speak out on issues but may not distribute material that is partisan or designed to intervene in an election,” Lynn said. “This proposal is a threat to churches and must be abandoned.”

Lynn outlined his concerns in a letter today to Dr. Joe Reed, chairman of the ADC.

Asserted Lynn in the letter to Reed, “Obviously there is no problem with handing the sample ballot to voters as they approach the polls. But passing them out in houses of worship is a big potential problem for the churches”

The plan was outlined earlier this month in a Washington Post story. The story said that the ADC intends to distribute the sample ballots in churches the Sunday before Alabama’s Democratic primary on Feb. 5.

Lynn asked Reed to drop the proposal, writing, “Violation of the law can result in imposition of an excise tax or even loss of tax-exempt status. Any church that distributes such material is putting its tax exemption at risk. I feel certain that this is not what your organization intends.”

The Internal Revenue Code forbids houses of worship and other 501(c)(3) organizations from intervening in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing candidates. Americans United sponsors a special initiative to educate religious leaders and members of the public about this law.

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.