Pennsylvania Churches Must Avoid Becoming Entangled In Partisan Political Machine, Says Americans United

Under-The-Radar Organizing Drive For Incumbent Senator Rick Santorum Jeopardizes Churches' Tax Exemption, Church-State Watchdog Group Charges

Religious leaders in Pennsylvania should be wary of a new political organizing effort that appears to be little more than a thinly veiled push to help re-elect U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Details about the new drive, spearheaded by the group Let Freedom Ring, appear in today’s New York Times. The newspaper noted that a March 6 organizing event by the group featured a video appearance by Santorum but not his Democratic opponent or any other candidates. Following the presentation, organizer Colin A. Hanna praised Santorum and recommended his book It Takes a Family.

The so-called Pennsylvania Pastors Network claims to be an issue-oriented public policy organization, but critics assert that the real goal is to help Santorum, who faces a tough re-election bid this year. The group has announced it will hire 10 full-time “field directors” in the state a huge number for a mere public policy effort.

“This is an under-the-radar campaign to re-elect Santorum,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Pennsylvania pastors are being misled, and they need to be very careful. The Internal Revenue Service is watching carefully for violations of federal tax law this year.”

Lynn noted that the Internal Revenue Service recently announced that it will vigorously enforce the “no-politicking” rule for churches and other tax-exempt entities during this election cycle.

Lynn, an ordained minister as well as an attorney, said Let Freedom Ring is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means it may legally intervene in political campaigns. Houses of worship, by contrast, are 501(c)(3) groups and are flatly barred from partisan political intervention.

During the March 6 event, one speaker, the Rev. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, discussed the importance of President George W. Bush having a favorable Senate so that he can continue to change the composition of the Supreme Court.

Let Freedom Ring’s activities are heavily financed by multi-millionaire John Templeton Jr., a Pennsylvania doctor who is a well known supporter of Republican candidates.

“Voter registration drives are fine,” said Lynn. “But the Pennsylvania Pastors Network appears to be undertaking this effort with the aim of helping Sen. Santorum retain his seat. Churches that get involved are putting their tax-exempt status at risk.”

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.