The Internal Revenue Service should investigate a New York City church for violating federal tax law by endorsing Democratic candidate Al Gore for president, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a formal complaint filed with the IRS today, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn charged that the Rev. Floyd Flake knowingly violated the Internal Revenue Code by inviting Gore to address his congregation on Feb. 13 and then endorsing the candidate during Sunday morning worship services at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York City.
According to numerous press accounts, Flake, referring to Gore, told his congregation, "I don't do endorsements from across the pulpit because I never know who's out there watching the types of laws that govern separation of church and state. But I will say to you this morning and you read it well: This should be the next president of the United States."
Wrote Lynn in his letter to the IRS, "This statement indicates that Flake is aware of the provisions in the Internal Revenue Code that bar houses of worship from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office but chose to ignore them. Such a flagrant violation of the law cannot be ignored."
Under IRS rules, houses of worship and other non-profit organizations are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The provision, found in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, is designed in part to prevent tax-exempt churches from being used for partisan political purposes.
"Rev. Flake seemed fully aware that his actions were wrong," said Lynn. "In fact, he seemed to revel in flouting federal tax law. This type of brazen challenge to our nation's laws cannot and should not be ignored."
Americans United runs a special election-year effort called "Project Fair Play." Under the project, Americans United seeks to educate churches about the law governing tax-exempt institutions and political activity. In cases of serious abuses of the law, AU reports offenders to the IRS.
The IRS has signaled an increasing willingness to enforce the law. In 1995, it revoked the tax exemption of the Church at Pierce Creek, a Binghamton, N.Y.-area congregation that paid for full-page newspaper ads in late October of 1992, advising people that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin. Americans United had filed a formal complaint with the IRS about the church's partisan politicking.
The Church at Pierce Creek sued unsuccessfully in federal court to win back its tax exemption. During the legal proceedings, the IRS stated that it has launched investigations of 31 houses of worship over allegations of partisan politicking.
Americans United is a non-partisan organization that works to protect religious freedom by defending the separation of church and state. Founded in 1947, the group has 60,000 members nationwide and his 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.