Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced today that it has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate eight churches around the country for intervening in partisan politics by distributing Christian Coalition voter guides two days before last month's election.
In the formal complaints filed with the IRS today, Americans United noted that federal tax law does not allow non-profit organizations, including churches, to distribute partisan campaign material. The IRS Code forbids churches and other non-profit groups to "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."
Individual complaints document instances of voter guide distribution in conjunction with a Republican candidate speaking from the pulpit, a Republican party official distributing Coalition voter guides in a church and church ushers distributing guides to churchgoers. (See attached sheet for more details.)
"These houses of worship are breaking federal tax law and penalties must be imposed," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. "Partisan politics is not the business of America's churches."
The eight churches reported today are: Bayside Christian Fellowship, Green Bay, Wisc.; Calvary Chapel, Santa Ana, Calif.; Crossroads Cathedral, Oklahoma City; First Assembly of God, Worcester, Mass.; Lighthouse Baptist Church, St. Maries, Idaho; MetroChurch, Edmond Okla.; Sonrise Church, Hillsboro, Oregon and Wheaton Evangelical Free Church, Wheaton, Ill.
Lynn noted that the Christian Coalition has repeatedly demonstrated its partisanship. Last September, the group sent out a nationwide fund-raising letter seeking money to pay for its guides. The letter stated that distribution of the guides would help prevent the "nightmare" of Dick Gephardt, Barney Frank, Ted Kennedy and other Democrats regaining control of Congress.
"The Coalition is brazenly crowing about how it plans to use its guides to defeat Democrats," Lynn said. "This fundraising letter is the smoking gun linking the guides to an orchestrated, illegal, pro-Republican campaign effort."
TV preacher Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and chairman of its board of directors, has indicated that his goal is control of the Republican Party and eventually both chambers of Congress and the White House. To meet this goal, Robertson has announced plans to draft 100,000 churches into the group's political activities. At a closed-door speech in Atlanta in September of 1997, Robertson said the Coalition should emulate Tammany Hall, one of the most notorious political machines in American history.
Lynn noted that the IRS takes the issue of church politicking seriously. In 1995 the federal tax agency pulled the tax-exempt status of the Church at Pierce Creek, a Vestal, N.Y., congregation that in October of 1992 ran full-page ads in two newspapers asserting that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin. The church was reported to the IRS by Americans United.
Last September, Americans United launched an aggressive clergy education campaign, including distribution of 80,000 memos, warning that past Christian Coalition voter guides had all the earmarks of partisan activity, including selective inclusion of issues and unjustified summaries of candidate positions. In addition, the guides were released days before the election to give candidates who believed they had been unfairly portrayed little time to respond.
Eight Churches Reported By Americans United To The Internal Revenue Service For Partisan Politicking
On Nov. 10, Americans United reported eight churches to the Internal Revenue Service for distributing Christian Coalition voter guides. They are:
xb7 Bayside Christian Fellowship, Green Bay, Wisc.: Church officials allowed Republican congressional candidate Mark Green to speak from the pulpit Nov. 1 and offered prayers on his behalf. Christian Coalition voter guides, distributed in the church foyer, said Green's Democratic opponent Jay Johnson supported "abortion on demand" and "special rights for homosexuals." (This congregation is home to controversial anti-gay professional football player Reggie White.)
xb7 MetroChurch, Edmond, Okla.: Ushers inside the church sanctuary distributed copies of Coalition voter guides. (This church has a history of partisan political activity. In April of 1997 the pastor endorsed two candidates for city council in the church bulletin and before the elections in 1996 officials with the local Republican Party distributed Coalition voter guides in church.)
xb7 Crossroads Cathedral, Oklahoma City, Okla.: Coalition guides were stacked on a table near the church's south entrance. Democratic congressional candidate Paul Barby says he was unfairly portrayed in the guides. He answered a 96-question form from the Christian Coalition, but Coalition leaders selected only four responses and manipulated them to make Barby look opposed to religious freedom, a balanced budget and term limits.
xb7 Lighthouse Baptist Church, St. Maries, Idaho: John Farris, the head of the Republican Party in Benewah County, distributed Christian Coalition voter guides in this church.
xb7 First Assembly of God, Worcester, Mass.: Coalition guides were stacked on a counter in the church foyer.
xb7 Calvary Chapel, Santa Ana, Calif.: Stacks of guides were left on tables around the church sanctuary.
xb7 Wheaton Evangelical Free Church, Wheaton, Ill.: Coalition guides were displayed prominently on a table in the church foyer next to the service's program.
xb7 Sonrise Church, Hillsboro, Oregon: During services, a church elder advised congregants to pick up Christian Coalition voter guides, which were stacked in an adjoining wing.
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.