Americans United for Separation of Church and State recently advised houses of worship to obey federal tax law and stay out of partisan politics during election season.
Americans United sent 85,000 letters to clergy across the country in October to remind them that federal law prohibits tax-exempt entities, such as houses of worship, from endorsing candidates for public office.
“The tax code is very clear when it comes to churches and politics,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “A house of worship can’t endorse or oppose candidates for office. Our letter simply reminds religious leaders about what the law requires, why it makes sense and how it could affect them.”
AU sent letters to a wide range of Christian denominations as well as synagogues and mosques.
Added Lynn, “Most clergy of all faiths know better than to tell their congregants how to vote. Sadly there are some in the Religious Right who want to turn churches into partisan political machines – not for the good of those churches, but to achieve their own radical agenda. We urge clergy not to get caught up in this scheme.”
The mass mailing comes as Religious Right groups are stepping up their efforts to persuade pastors to politicize their pulpits. In September, the Family Research Council held its annual “Values Voter Summit” in Washington, D.C., which is essentially an effort to convince fundamentalist voters to cast their ballots for candidates hand-picked by the Religious Right.
In October, the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Religious Right legal group founded by TV and radio preachers, urged conservative Christian pastors to violate tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit on the so-called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Nearly 1,500 pastors reportedly participated in the Oct. 5 event.