TV preacher and Christian Coalition President Pat Robertson is engaged in an aggressive attempt to get conservative California churches to distribute the Coalition's slanted voter guides before the state's March 7 primary. But churches that partake in Robertson's plan are violating federal tax law and running the risk of being punished by the Internal Revenue Service, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"Pat Robertson seems desperate to rope California churches into his political machine," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Churches that want to comply with the law should reject Robertson's advances.
"The Christian Coalition's voter guides are shameless political propaganda intended to get voters to vote for George W. Bush and against John McCain," Lynn said. "Churches that distribute these obviously partisan guides are violating federal tax law and inviting a visit from the IRS."
Federal tax law prohibits churches, as non-profit, tax-exempt institutions, from intervening directly or indirectly in partisan campaigns, including endorsing or opposing any candidate for public office. As part of this legal prohibition, churches also may not distribute biased political materials.
For five years, Americans United, a Washington, D.C.-based constitutional watchdog group, has sponsored an election-year campaign to educate churches about tax law and to report violations. Through this effort, seven AU chapters throughout California are sending materials to local houses of worship in an attempt to educate religious leaders about the legal dangers associated with distribution of the Christian Coalition's voter guides.
Americans United will file formal complaints with the IRS against churches that ignore the law and engage in partisan politicking by distributing slanted materials published by the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition voter guides set to be distributed in California churches this Sunday, Lynn said, obviously qualify as biased. Even though McCain and Bush have similar conservative stands on many issues, the guides depict McCain as more in line with the Democratic Party. The voter guide shows McCain and Democratic candidate Al Gore in agreement on six of nine issues. (See Americans United analysis.)
Continued Lynn, "Churches should not take advice from Pat Robertson on tax law. After all, the Christian Coalition was denied a tax exemption by the IRS just last year for excessive politicking. Robertson is clearly not a good source of information on religion and politics."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group and the leading monitor and critic of the Religious Right. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and is based in Washington, D.C.
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.