Iowa Church’s Election Campaign Against State Supreme Court Justices Merits IRS Investigation

Church’s Plan To Oust Judges Violates Federal Ban On Electioneering, Says AU's Lynn

 Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an Iowa church that is organizing a church-based campaign to unseat three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court.

Cornerstone World Outreach, a Sioux City congregation, is sponsoring Project Jeremiah, a church-based campaign to encourage voting against the judges in a retention election on the Nov. 2 ballot. Religious Right activists are seeking the defeat of the judges because they ruled in favor of extending civil-marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, said the church’s campaign is a clear violation of federal tax law.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a more outrageous effort to politicize churches,” said Lynn. “This deplorable scheme seeks to turn houses of worship into dens of inequity and intolerance. I call on the IRS to move swiftly to put a stop to this outrage.

“It’s bad enough that the leaders of this church are using donations from the collection plate to fund a hardball political operation,” Lynn continued. “It’s even more appalling that they are doing so in a bigoted attempt to deny civil rights to a targeted minority. This is downright shameful.”  

In a complaint filed with the IRS today, Lynn pointed to a Sept. 3 letter that Cornerstone Church sent to pastors around the state urging them to join a campaign to unseat the judges. The letter, signed by Cornerstone Pastor Cary K. Gordon, concedes that the project raises legal dangers but urges pastors to join it anyway.

Project Jeremiah, the church missive says, was “organized by the pastoral staff of Cornerstone Church (aka Cornerstone World Outreach), in conjunction with PeaceMakers Institute, Liberty Institute, and the Iowa Family Policy Center, to call for the removal of activist Judges from the Iowa Supreme Court, backed by a pledge of legal protection for pastors from the lawyers of Liberty Institute. Pastors who join this effort are asked to commit to confront the injustice and ungodly decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court by boldly calling upon their flocks to ‘vote no on judicial retention’ for the three consecutive Sundays prior to Election Day.”

Wrote AU’s Lynn, in his complaint to the IRS, “I believe this is a clear violation of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal tax law forbids 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from intervening in elections in support of or opposition to any candidate. I urge you to investigate this matter promptly and apply appropriate penalties under the law.”

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.