Americans United has always taken heat from the Religious Right for allegedly turning in only "conservative" churches to the Internal Revenue Service for candidate endorsements from the pulpit.
This 2008 election season has been no different, especially since AU reported the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, N.J., for Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli's comparison of Democratic candidate Barack Obama to Herod Antipas, the New Testament ruler who is notorious for ordering the beheading of John the Baptist.
After AU's complaint about Serratelli, AU Executive Director Barry Lynn, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, has been called a "religion-phobe" by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Perkins claimed AU just wants to "undermine pastors' constitutional rights to speak about moral issues."
Yesterday Lynn appeared on Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor," where he was accused of bias when it comes to not reporting churches that campaign for liberal candidates.
Earlier in the week, the D.C. Examiner, a right-wing tabloid, dubbed Lynn a "dim bulb" and asked in an opinion article, "Where is Lynn when preachers endorse Obama from the pulpit or allow their pulpits to be used by politicians endorsing Obama?"
Well, here is the answer: Lynn and AU are where we always are – looking for solid evidence of illegal misuse of tax-exempt resources and filing complaints to the IRS on an even-handed basis when we find it.
When a religious leader, acting in his official capacity, identifies a candidate in a specific election and tells his congregation to vote for or against that candidate, then it is an IRS violation. It makes no difference to us what party that candidate belongs to, and AU's history proves that we really mean it.
We are a nonpartisan organization, and we have filed IRS complaints about religious organizations working on behalf of (or against) Republican, Democratic and Independent candidates.
After all, when AU first began monitoring church politicking, our first complaint was against the Rev. Jesse Jackson for attempting to use churches for fundraising during his 1988 presidential campaign.
In 1996, we filed a complaint with the IRS against a Buddhist temple that held a fundraiser for the Democratic ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
In 2000, AU filed a complaint against the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York for endorsing Gore. The pastor of that church was visited by IRS agents and agreed to issue no more pulpit endorsements. Four years later, AU reported the Third New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., for opposing George W. Bush's candidacy.
In June 2007, AU reported the Diocese of Providence, R.I., for Bishop Thomas J. Tobin's column in a diocesan newspaper opposing then-Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani for his views on abortion. Tobin compared Giuliani to Pontius Pilate.
In January 2008, AU reported Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Las Vegas for hosting presidential candidate Barack Obama shortly before the state caucuses. The minister went on to endorse Obama by saying he would "cast [his] vote for this senator."
The list goes on.
The point is, Americans United wants illegal church politicking to stop. It doesn't matter if it is "conservative" or "liberal" churches violating tax law. Our goal is for all religious leaders to stop using their houses of worship as political action committees.
This year, due to the Alliance Defense Fund's crusade to get evangelical pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit, we've seen far more examples of church support for Republicans. Every pastor who took part in that scheme either endorsed John McCain or opposed Barack Obama (some did both). Eight of our most recent IRS complaints are results of the ADF scheme.
You can't blame AU for "bias" when Religious Right groups are out there publicly pushing partisan schemes, and their allied pastors are boasting to the news media about their candidate endorsements. That's hard to miss. If there are similar schemes on behalf of candidates on the other side of the political aisle, we'd be happy to see the evidence.
This is the last weekend before Election Day. Americans United wants to hear from you about any church, synagogue, temple or mosque that may be violating tax law. If the facts show a religious organization clearly violating the IRS Code, we assure you that we will file a report. This assurance extends across party lines.
To report a violation, please visit http://projectfairplay.org/report.