Complaints Filed Against Churches Making Endorsements

Andy Birkey

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed formal complaints targeting six churches that issued political endorsements on "Pulpit Freedom Sunday."

An initiative spurred by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a
religious right legal outfit affiliated with James Dobson’s Focus on
the Family, has prompted complaints to the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS), including one against Minnesota’s Warroad Community Church. The
ADF says that at least 30 churches participated in its Pulpit Freedom
Sunday and endorsed presidential candidates for office. Almost all
endorsed Sen. John McCain.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed formal
complaints with the IRS on Monday targeting six churches that violated
an IRS stipulating that churches which take advantage of the IRS’ tax
breaks need to refrain from partisan politics or else pay their share
of taxes.

Pastor Jody Hice of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Ga., said that McCain
"holds more to a biblical world view" on issues of abortion and
homosexuality and urged her congregation to vote for McCain and not
Sen. Barack Obama.

Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn., 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." He said that homosexuality is immoral and Obama’s refusal to
denounce homosexuality and abortion is "evil, wicked and immoral. Obama
condones what the Bible condemns," he said.

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Booth was a delegate to the Republican National Convention (RNC) and had previously endorsed McCain from the pulpit.

Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla., said
from the pulpit, "As a Christian and as an American citizen, I will be
voting for John McCain."

Pastor Luke Emrich of New Life Church in West Bend, Wis., referenced
abortion and said to his church, "I’m telling you straight up I would
choose life. I would cast a vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin." On Obama he said,
"If a candidate supports something that is evil and wicked from a
biblical perspective, then I have the right to call out the wickedness,
and I have the right to say this is what this person stands for – this
is wrong."

The Rev. Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, Calif., came out strongly against Obama
and 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."

He then endorsed Alan Keyes of the American Independent Party. "I’m
here to tell you that I personally endorse Alan Keyes as our next
president of the United States," said Drake. "There’s no way a
Christian can vote for Barack Obama. You could vote for John McCain. I
want you to vote your conscience. Let the Bible act as your guide."

One pastor missed his flight and couldn’t participate, although it’s
likely that Bishop Robert Smith Sr. of Word of Outreach Center in
Little Rock, Ark., would have endorsed McCain. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

The Rev. Francis Pultro of Calvary Chapel, Philadelphia, Pa., told
his congregation, "As Christians, it’s clear we should vote for John
McCain. He is the only candidate I believe a Christian can vote for."

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, said that pastors who violated the law
should be ashamed.

"These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with
the consequences," said 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."

He continued, "A pastor who knowingly violates federal tax law is
setting a poor example for his or her congregation. Every pastor who
took part in this stunt ought to be ashamed."

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