Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ, charging that the organization violated federal law by promoting a candidate’s campaign rally.
Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ operates as a tax-exempt group and solicits tax-deductible donations on its Web site, but last month it distributed an e-mail in support of Rep. Sally Kern, a candidate seeking reelection to the state House of Representatives.
Headlined, “Rally for Sally on Thursday!!,” the email message advocated attendance at “a Campaign Rally for Representative Sally Kern” June 24 in Warr Acres, Okla.
A tagline on the message indicated it was sent from the advisory board of Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. Federal law bars tax-exempt groups from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates.
Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ can’t be tax exempt and engage in partisan politicking at the same time. If the group wants to help Sally Kern or other candidates get elected, it must first forgo tax-exempt status.”
In a letter to the IRS today, AU’s Lynn urged the federal agency to “investigate this matter and take the necessary steps to see that the law is obeyed.”
Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ cited Kern’s stance on social issues as the reason for its support.
“In case you missed it,” the email message asserted, “the homosexual lobby has recruited an individual that has had a sex change operation to run against Rep. Kern. The homosexual lobby from across America will be pouring money into this local race in an attempt to make a statement to the country by knocking out an outspoken Christian, pro-family representative. If they succeed, it will serve as a warning shot across the bough of all elected officials who defend Biblical values. Even if this is not your district, this race will effect [sic] you! Once a person is elected to the legislature, their voting impacts ALL Oklahomans.”
Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ apparently operates out of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond. The group and the church have the same phone number, and a link to the group’s Web site is featured prominently on the church’s homepage.
In news accounts, the church’s pastor, Paul Blair, is identified as founder and president of Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. The group’s Web site contains a column by Blair attacking the provision in federal law that bars electioneering by churches and other non-profits.
Progressive clergy oppose misuse of tax-exempt resources to intervene in partisan politics.
The Rev. Bruce Prescott, a Baptist minister in Norman, Okla., and a member of the Americans United Board of Trustees, called on the IRS to act.
“Organizations like Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ should not be permitted to make a mockery of our laws,” Prescott said. “I urge the IRS to hold this group accountable for its actions.
“Religion should never be politicized,” Prescott said. “It undermines the integrity of our houses of worship and is certain to divide congregations and communities.”
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.