Oct 03, 2008

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an Oklahoma church whose pastor called for the election of Republican presidential candidate John McCain from the pulpit last Sunday.

The Rev. Dan Fisher, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, Okla., trumpeted his endorsement in a press release issued by his church. The church release says, “After comparing and contrasting the candidates’ views with the Bible, Pastor Fisher unabashedly proclaimed that he believes Christians cannot, in good faith, vote for Barack Obama and must cast their votes in favor of John McCain.”

The Oct. 1 press release was disseminated by e-mail to news outlets in the state.

The Oklahoma pulpit endorsement was conducted in conjunction with an organized Religious Right campaign to violate federal tax law.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group in Scottsdale, Ariz., urged pastors to defy federal tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates during a so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” on Sept. 28. Under the IRS Code, churches and other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups may not intervene in elections.

Americans United says church intervention in partisan politics is illegal. The church-state watchdog group filed a complaint with the IRS on Oct. 2 about the Oklahoma church’s action.

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Trinity Baptist is a church, not a political action committee. Pastor Fisher has deliberately violated federal tax law, and his church ought to face appropriate penalties.

“The Religious Right desperately wants to mold fundamentalist congregations into a partisan juggernaut that controls all elections and ultimately the government itself,” Lynn continued. “That’s a frightening prospect in a pluralistic nation that safeguards freedom of conscience for persons of all faiths and none.”

This is the seventh church that Americans United has reported to the IRS for endorsing candidates as part of the ADF scheme.

Federal tax law states that non-profit groups holding 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status may not intervene in partisan politics by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The IRS has stated that it is cracking down on violations of the law.

Americans United sponsors Project Fair Play, a program that educates religious leaders about federal tax law governing political activity. As part of the program, flagrant electioneering violations by religious groups are reported to the IRS.