Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a ministry in Ridgway, Colo., that printed and mailed a magazine to state residents asking them to vote for Republican candidates.
The publication was produced by Ridgway Christian Center, an affiliate of Praise Him Ministries. Its cover is dated Fall 2012, and it features a photo of a series of American flags. The headline reads, “Honor God! Love your country! VOTE REPUBLICAN!”
“This type of political intervention by a religious group is over the top,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Federal law does not allow tax-exempt groups to intervene in partisan politics like this.”
Added Lynn, “This ministry has violated the law and should pay the penalty.”
Inside the publication, Victoria Hearst, founder and president of the ministry, writes a long article challenging the right of the Internal Revenue Service to prohibit tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
The article cites material produced by the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund), an Arizona-based organization that every year sponsors an event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” during which pastors are urged to openly violate the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.
In its complaint to the IRS, Americans United asserted that Ridgway Christian Center is knowingly violating the law.
“In this case, Ridgway Christian Center/Praise Him Ministries has endorsed not just one candidate but an entire slate with its command to vote for the Republican Party,” Lynn wrote. “Furthermore, the column inside this publication by Hearst indicates that she is well aware of what the law requires but has decided not to follow it.”
Concludes the letter, “I believe this type of brazen disregard for the law cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. I urge you to investigate this matter and fully apply the law.”
Americans United sponsors a special outreach effort called Project Fair Play to educate members of the clergy and lay people about what houses of worship can and cannot do in the political area. For more information, visit: projectfairplay.org