The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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Joe Conn

Rob Boston

Sandhya Bathija

New Mexico Church Violated Federal Tax Law With Pro-Republican Sign, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Asks IRS to Investigate Rock Christian Fellowship for Tax Law Violations


A New Mexico church violated federal tax law by posting a sign
encouraging voters to support Republican candidates over Democratic
ones, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the Internal Revenue Service.

Rock Christian Fellowship in Espanola has posted two large photos on
its building. One depicts an aborted fetus and has underneath it three
last names of Democratic candidates: Obama, Udall and Lujan. (Barack
Obama is the Democratic candidate for president, Tom Udall is a
candidate for U.S. Senate and Ben Ray Lujan is a candidate for the U.S.
House of Representatives.)

The other photo is of a healthy baby and has below it three last
names of Republican candidates: McCain, Pearce and East. (John McCain
is the GOP candidate for president, while Steve Pearce is a candidate
for Senate and Dan East is a candidate for the U.S. House.)

The photo of the healthy baby is headlined "Life." Below the display are the words "YOU WILL DECIDE."

"Churches are permitted to speak out on issues, but this stunt goes
far beyond that," remarked the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director
of Americans United. "This church is telling people how to vote. That's
not its job and it is a violation of federal tax law to boot."

In a letter to the IRS sent today, Americans United says the display
clearly sends the message that one set of candidates favors death and
the other favors life and that voters are expected to choose the slate
that favors life.

In the letter, AU notes that the pastor of the church, Michael
Naranjo, has admitted that this is his goal. He told the Santa Fe New
Mexican that his purpose is "educating on who stands pro-life and who
is pro-death."

Naranjo is also aware that his actions may be a violation of the
law. He told the newspaper, "I'd rather lose my 501(c)(3) than lose my

AU points out that the IRS has stated that tax-exempt groups "must
avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign
intervention." Rock Christian Fellowship's display fails that test, AU

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.