Miami Church Violated Federal Tax Law With Pro-kerry Rally, Says Americans United

Watchdog Group Asks IRS To Investigate Partisan Activities At Florida Congregation

A Miami church that hosted a rally on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry Oct. 10 should be investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United today asked the IRS to investigate the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, which hosted a Sunday service that became a rally featuring speeches by Kerry, former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton and other prominent Democrats.

During the service, the church's pastor, the Rev. Gaston E. Smith, introduced Kerry as "the next president of the United States" and told the crowd, "To bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry."

Sharpton also praised Kerry and attacked President George W. Bush. He criticized the Florida recount of 2000, promising that voters in the state would deliver a "big payback" to the president on Nov. 2.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said the church-based partisan rally seems to be a clear violation of federal tax law that bars houses of worship and other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt groups from intervening in political campaigns.

"Federal tax law is clear on this matter," Lynn said. "Houses of worship may not endorse candidates for public office, and they certainly may not host huge partisan rallies. This was way over the top."

Concluded Lynn, "I urge the IRS to investigate this church's activities. Americans need to know that federal law will be enforced."

In his letter to the IRS, Lynn noted that the rally at Friendship Missionary Baptist was widely covered in the media and that one news service even noted that Smith's endorsement of Kerry was problematic.

"This appears to have been a clear case of a church hosting a partisan political rally," Lynn wrote to the tax agency. "I believe the obvious aim of this event was to endorse Kerry's candidacy and spur congregants to vote for him. As such, the church has run afoul of federal tax law."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State 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 the 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.