Three churches in the Texas city of Abilene donated money to a city council candidate, records show.
The churches — Fountaingate Merkel Church, Remnant Church and Hope Chapel Foursquare Church — donated a total of $800 to the campaign of Scott Beard, senior pastor at Fountaingate Fellowship Church, who unsuccessfully sought a seat on the city council, reported The Texas Tribune and ProPublica.
A federal law known as the Johnson Amendment bars all nonprofit groups that hold 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, a designation that covers houses of worship, from intervening in partisan political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The provision was enacted in 1954.
“This is absolutely something every church should know – and probably does know – that they’re not allowed to do,” Sam Brunson, a law professor specializing in religion and tax exemption at Loyola University Chicago, told The Texas Tribune and ProPublica.
Beard told the media outlets that the churches had made an honest mistake. Their leaders, he said, did not know they weren’t allowed to contribute to his campaign. He said he sent the money back.
Other possible Johnson Amendment violations occurred during the race.
“The Abilene City Council race has been marked by allegations of Johnson Amendment violations for months,” reported The Texas Tribune and ProPublica. “At least five churches have displayed campaign signs for three conservative Christian candidates who have all vowed to protect children by removing what they deemed to be obscene books from the public library and banning family-friendly drag shows from the city.”
The election took place in early May. Beard was defeated by Brian Yates. Two other conservative Christian candidates also lost.