Americans United for Separation of Church and State today filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service about six churches whose pastors endorsed candidates from the pulpit during a mass defiance of federal tax law last Sunday.
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” Sept. 28. Under the IRS Code, churches and other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups may not intervene in elections.
“These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
Continued Lynn, “This is one of the most appalling Religious Right gambits I’ve ever seen. Church leaders are supposed to tend to Americans’ spiritual needs, not behave like partisan political hacks. I urge the IRS to act swiftly in these cases.”
Lynn also scored the ministers who took part in the ADF gambit.
“A pastor who knowingly violates federal tax law is setting a poor example for his or her congregation,” Lynn said. “Every pastor who took part in this stunt ought to be ashamed.”
The ADF overture has been roundly criticized. Many pastors refused to take part, arguing that America’s pulpits should not be politicized. In addition, three former IRS officials have filed a complaint asserting that the ADF has violated ethics standards governing tax attorneys by urging clients to violate the law.
The six churches reported to the IRS by Americans United today are:
Bethlehem Baptist Church, Bethlehem, Ga.: According to press accounts, Pastor Jody Hice “urged his congregation to vote for Sen. John McCain and to not vote for Sen. Barack Obama.”
Fairview Baptist Church, Edmond, Okla.: The Associated Press reported that Pastor Paul Blair “says he told his congregation that as a Christian and as an American citizen, he would be voting for John McCain.”
Warroad Community Church, Warroad, Minn.: Pastor Gus Booth told his congregation, “We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out. The most righteous is John McCain.”
Calvary Chapel, Philadelphia, Pa.: The Rev. Francis Pultro told the congregation, “As Christians it’s clear we should vote for John McCain. He is the only candidate I believe a Christian can vote for.”
First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, Calif.: The Rev. Wiley Drake said, “I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors. I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don’t like that, too bad….According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama. Mr. Obama is not standing up for anything that is tradition in America.”
New Life Church, West Bend, Wisc.: Speaking from the pulpit, Pastor Luke Emrich said, “I’m telling you straight up I would choose life. I would cast a vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin.”
Said AU’s Lynn, “When five of the six pastors choose to endorse John McCain, it’s hard not to see the ADF scheme as partisan in character.”
In complaint letters filed with the IRS, Americans United urged swift investigations of the churches and appropriate penalties.