IRS Should Investigate Oklahoma Church That Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate, Says AU

Church-State Watchdog Group Calls On Tax Agency To Investigate Fairview Baptist Church For Illegal Electioneering

The Internal Revenue Service should investigate an Edmond, Okla., church whose pastor endorsed a gubernatorial candidate from the pulpit, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church endorsed Republican hopeful Mary Fallin from the pulpit during services Sept. 26.

Federal law prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, which includes houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

“When churches become cogs in any candidate’s political machine, they ought to lose their tax exemption,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “I urge the IRS to investigate this matter and apply the law.”

In a complaint filed with the IRS today, Lynn said the facts are clear.

“Blair is a top official and paid staff member of Fairview Baptist Church,” wrote Lynn in the letter. “He was speaking to the congregation in his official capacity and during a church meeting. As such, his candidate endorsement from the pulpit constitutes an official endorsement by the nonprofit religious organization itself.”

Lynn noted that this is the second time Blair has flouted federal law. In 2008, Blair endorsed U.S. Sen. John McCain for president from the pulpit.

Blair issued the endorsements as part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual event sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). The ADF, a Religious Right legal group founded by TV preachers, prods pastors to openly defy the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

To counter the ADF’s church electioneering scheme, Americans United maintains a Web site called Project Fair Play (www.projectfairplay.org) that educates religious leaders and the American public about what houses of worship may and may not do in the political arena. As part of the project, Americans United reports pastors who violate the law to the IRS.

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.