October 19, 2008

Americans United Asks IRS To Investigate Arkansas Church For Political Endorsement

IRS building on Constitution Avenue in Washing...Image via WikipediaA handful of American churches have made it clear that they have no interest in adhering to federal tax laws that prohibit them from endorsing political candidates. Now it looks like we have another case of a church, this time in Arkansas, violating the law to endorse McCain-Palin. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to look into the matter, and I applaud their efforts as a church-state watchdog. The Americans United press release is included below.

Americans United Asks IRS To Investigate Arkansas Church For Political Endorsement

Church-State Watchdog Group Says Pastor Violated Federal Tax Law With Call To Vote For McCain

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an Arkansas church whose pastor endorsed John McCain from the pulpit Oct. 12.

According to a report in the Associated Press, Bishop Robert Smith of Word of Outreach Christian Center in Little Rock told congregants, “I will be voting for John McCain and Sarah Palin.”

Smith later admitted that he took this action fully aware that federal tax law prohibits houses of worship from opposing or endorsing candidates. He told the Associated Press, “It’s about principle. I wouldn’t care if it’s my mother. If she isn’t for life or for heterosexual relationships, I wouldn’t vote for my momma.”

Smith’s violation of the law was part of a larger effort coordinated by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group. The ADF sponsored a so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” Sept. 28 during which pastors were urged to violate federal tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. Smith had planned to take part in that event but was out of town at the time.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, urged the IRS to act swiftly in this case.

“Bishop Smith knowingly and flagrantly violated the law and has even dared the IRS to investigate him for it,” Lynn said. “I hope the federal tax agency promptly takes him up on that.”

Lynn noted that recent public-opinion polls have shown widespread opposition to pulpit politicking. He criticized Religious Right groups for pushing this crusade.

“The ADF and groups like it are trying to divert America’s churches away from spiritual matters and turn them into faith-based political action committees,” Lynn said. “It’s a mistake, and the effort deserves to fail.”

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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.

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