Irs Should Investigate Partisan Political Activity Of Southern Baptist Church In Calif., Says Americans United

Pastor Used Church Resources To Endorse GOP Hopeful Huckabee As God's Candidate In Violation Of Federal Tax Law, Says Church-State Watchdog Group

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., for possible violation of federal tax law barring electioneering by non-profit groups.

“Federal tax law is clear,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, “Churches and other non-profits may not endorse candidates, if they want to keep their tax exemption. I am confident that the vast majority of Americans do not want to see their houses of worship politicized.”

In a complaint to the IRS, Americans United’s Lynn said Dr. Wiley S. Drake, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, issued a press release Aug. 11 endorsing Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Drake’s press release was issued on church letterhead. He also endorsed Huckabee on a church-affiliated radio show and featured a Huckabee campaign official.

Americans United’s Lynn says the church’s intervention in partisan politics merits an IRS investigation.

“Although Drake may express his personal views on political candidates,” Lynn wrote to the IRS, “federal tax law prohibits such endorsements by religious leaders acting in their capacities as officials of non-profit religious organizations. The IRS has repeatedly warned non-profits not to use organizational resources to intervene in elections.

“Use of church letterhead to endorse a candidate for public office appears to violate the provisions of federal tax law that prohibit non-profit intervention in political campaigns,” Lynn continued. “Drake’s endorsement of a candidate on a church-based radio show raises the same concerns.”

Drake’s press release clearly endorsed Huckabee and urged other Southern Baptists to support the candidate as well.

 “I announce,” said the pastor, “that I am going to personally endorse Mike Huckabee. I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can. First of all pray and then ask God, what should I do to put feet to my prayers.

“Do what God tells you to do,” Drake continued. “I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running Mike Huckabee will listen to God.”

On his Aug. 13 internet radio show, “The Wiley Drake Show,” Drake reaffirmed the endorsement.

Drake said, “I believe Mike Huckabee is, indeed, a man that I can endorse. As Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention, I put out a press release to that effect. And a lot of people are calling me and saying, ‘Well, Wiley, wait a minute. Why are you endorsing Mike over the rest of the fellas?’…. Mike Huckabee is a son of God; he loves the Lord, and I believe, no matter what the constituents say or the Party says, he is a man of integrity who fears God, and in the finality of things will say, ‘Okay, God, what do you want me to do?’ And I believe he will listen to God.”

Huckabee campaign official Eric Woolson appeared on the show with Drake and promised to arrange a candidate appearance on the show at a later date.

Drake also issued a press release Aug. 7 on church letterhead announcing that he would form an “Exploratory Committee to determine if…. ‘The Wiley Drake Show’ should endorse and encourage Southern Baptist and other Evangelical Christians to support Mike Huckabee for President of the United States.”

On his radio show that day, Drake said, “I want to ask you to please pray for me and for a press release that we just put out this morning. And the press release is simply this: this comes from my office, pastor, First Southern Baptist Church and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, etc., etc….I am forming an exploratory committee to determine if the Wiley Drake Show should endorse and encourage Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians to support Mike Huckabee for president of the United States.”

The relationship between the radio show and Drake’s church is unclear; however, the radio show and the church share the same telephone number, suggesting that church resources are being used in conjunction with the show. In addition, the studio for the radio show is located in the church.

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.

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.