Religious Right activists are bragging about their success in the 2014 mid-term elections, but there’s one thing they’re not telling the American people: Increasingly, their strategy relies on convincing houses of worship to violate federal law.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today noted that groups like the Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the American Family Association and others urged houses of worship to distribute “voter guides” in houses of worship prior to the election. These guides, AU says, are often thinly-veiled campaign material that supports conservative candidates over others.
Some even went beyond that. The Alliance Defending Freedom sponsors an annual event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” during which pastors are urged to openly violate the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.
“The Religious Right’s scheme is to transform tax-exempt houses of worship into cogs in a giant partisan political machine,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s time for this to stop.”
Lynn noted that it is a violation of federal law for tax-exempt, non-profit groups to endorse or oppose candidates, but Religious Right groups are simply ignoring this law. He called on the Internal Revenue Service to act.
“I’m sure groups like the ADF and the Faith & Freedom Coalition feel good about their success in dragging churches into partisan politics, which may very well have affected the outcome of some races yesterday,” Lynn said. “But it’s important to remember that their success is made possible in part by the IRS, which continues to sit on its hands instead of enforcing our nation’s laws.”
Lynn concluded, “Houses of worship that knowingly break the law by intervening in partisan elections should be stripped of their tax-exempt status.”
Lynn noted that at a press conference this morning, Ralph Reed of the Faith & Freedom Coalition claimed that his group distributed 20 million voter guides in 117,000 churches. Lynn said that the guides he examined online were clearly designed to promote Republicans.
The IRS recently claimed that it has an enforcement mechanism in place for houses of worship that don’t follow the rules on politicking. It’s time, Lynn said, for the tax agency to use it.
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.