WASHINGTON, DC - June 11 - Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a Minnesota church whose pastor insisted that Christians cannot vote for presidential candidates Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in northern Minnesota delivered a sermon May 18 in which he said, “If you are a Christian, you cannot support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.…Both Hillary and Barack favor the shedding of innocent blood (abortion) and the legalization of the abomination of homosexual marriage.”
Booth’s sermon was profiled in the Warroad Pioneer, a weekly newspaper, under the headline, “Local pastor uses scripture to oppose presidential candidates Clinton and Obama.”
About two weeks after the sermon, Booth, who was a delegate to this year’s National Republican Convention, sent an e-mail message to Americans United, noting that he had used his pulpit for partisan purposes and attaching a copy of the newspaper article.
“I am writing you to let you know that I preached a sermon in my church on Sunday, May 18, 2008, that specifically addressed the current candidates for President in the light of the Bible,” Booth wrote. “As you can see from the attached newspaper article, I specifically made recommendations as to who a Christian should vote for.”
Booth continued, “I have read in the past about how you have a campaign to intimidate churches into silence when it comes to speaking about candidates for office. I am letting you know that I will not be intimidated into silence when I believe that God wants me to address the great moral issues of the day, including who will be our next national leader.”
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, called Booth’s actions a flagrant violation of federal tax law. Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are free to address moral issues but are not allowed to engage in campaign intervention.
“Booth is free to endorse anyone he wants to as a private citizen,” Lynn said. “But when he is standing in his tax-exempt pulpit as the top official of a tax-exempt religious organization, he must lay partisanship aside. The IRS needs to look into this apparent violation of federal tax law.”
In his letter to the IRS, Lynn noted that the federal tax agency has enhanced its enforcement of the “no-politicking” rule and urged the agency to make certain Booth follows the law.
Lynn told that IRS that Booth’s message to AU “is a clear indication that Booth is aware that his actions are legally problematic, yet he chose to proceed anyway.”
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.