Americans United for Separation of Church and State is urging houses of worship to reject Religious Right appeals to politicize their pulpits.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a group founded and funded by TV preachers, is urging evangelical pastors to openly break federal tax law this Sunday by using the pulpit to endorse or oppose candidates. The ADF calls its stunt “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
“This is the worst idea ever,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Clergy serve as spiritual advisers, not political bosses. Pulpit politicking violates federal tax law and offends the vast majority of church-goers.
“The nation is already bitterly divided over politics this year,” Lynn continued. “Now, Religious Right political hacks want to haul that divisiveness into America’s houses of worship. Clergy should just say no.”
A provision in the Internal Revenue Code bars all 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.
Americans United has been working aggressively to counter misinformation from the ADF. AU chapters, members and activists across the country are distributing informational letters to houses of worship about the provisions of tax law regarding nonprofits and electioneering.
Americans United also has unveiled a new Web site – www.projectfairplay.org – that gives information about what churches can and can’t do in the political arena.
Lynn notes that the American people overwhelmingly oppose partisan politicking in houses of worship. A recent survey by the Pew Forum found that 70 percent of Americans say churches should not endorse candidates during elections. Only 24 percent backed the move.
As Pew noted, “These opinions have changed little in recent years. More than half of every major religious group opposes such endorsements.”
Opposition has also come from an unexpected quarter. Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck said July 1, “I’d walk out of a church that was telling me vote for a Republican or vote for a Democrat.”
Lynn said pastors should be wary of schemes promulgated by the ADF and groups like it. He also vowed that Americans United will report any church that breaks the law to the IRS.
“The Alliance Defense Fund is asking pastors to take part in a reckless, dangerous and unethical scheme,” Lynn said. “Religious leaders should send the group packing and reject Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
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.