The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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Joe Conn
Rob Boston
Sandhya Bathija

Churches That Violate Law on Pulpit Politicking Will Be Reported to the IRS, Vows Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Condemns Religious Right Plan to Politicize Pulpits This Sunday


Houses of worship that flagrantly violate federal tax law by taking
part in a Religious Right-led effort to politicize America's pulpits
this Sunday will be promptly reported to the Internal Revenue Service,
says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group based
in Arizona, is urging pastors to endorse or oppose candidates from the
pulpit on Sept. 28, even though IRS regulations forbid tax-exempt
groups from intervening in political campaigns. Reportedly, about 30
churches will participate.

"Taking part in this reckless stunt is a one-way ticket to loss of
tax exemption," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of
Americans United. "We'll be watching, and pastors who violate the law
can expect their churches to be reported to the IRS the first thing
Monday morning."

Since 1996, Americans United has sponsored Project Fair Play, an
effort designed to educate religious leaders about the requirements of
federal tax law. AU has filed complaints to the IRS about 85 houses of
worship and religious non-profits. One church lost its tax exemption,
some have been audited and others have received IRS warnings.

Lynn noted that tax exemption is a privilege and it comes with certain limitations.

"Houses of worship exist to enrich people's spiritual lives, not act
like political machines that issue marching orders to voters," Lynn
said. "They are tax-exempt because their work is religious and
charitable, not political."

Earlier this month, prominent Washington tax attorneys and former
IRS officials Marcus Owens, Mort Caplin and Cono Namorato told the IRS
that the ADF's scheme is a "mass violation of federal tax law" and
clearly violates the ethics rules governing practice before the IRS.
They called for an IRS investigation and appropriate penalties for the

Meanwhile, Americans United is circulating a letter to churches
advising religious leaders on the rules governing tax-exempt entities
and politics. Churches should not participate in the ADF's "Pulpit
Freedom Sunday" scheme if they want to hold on to their tax exemption.

Many clergy have opposed the ADF's plan for this Sunday.

Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami released a statement indicating
that none of his Catholic churches or priests will participate in the

The Rev. Eric Williams of North Congregational United Church of
Christ in Columbus, Ohio, urged clergy all over America to give sermons
in support of church-state separation and against partisan politics in
houses of worship.

Americans United's Web site,,
educates pastors, laypeople and others about the requirements of
federal tax law. It also serves as a place to report tax law violations
to Americans United.

Added Lynn, "Pastors who are thinking of joining the ADF's gambit
still have time to change their minds and I urge them to do so."

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.