The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Americans United Urges IRS To Take Necessary Steps To Limit Partisan Activity By Churches


Partisan electioneering by tax-exempt churches is a significant
national problem so the Internal Revenue Service must have clear and
effective policies in place to respond, Americans United for Separation
of Church and State has told the federal tax agency.

The IRS is soliciting comments for new rules governing the
enforcement of provisions in federal tax law that bar churches and
other tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing or opposing

Earlier this year, a federal court issued a ruling about IRS
procedure that has required the government agency to clarify its
internal policies regarding investigations of houses of worship.

"The rules need to change to get necessary investigations back on
track," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive
director. "The law forbids tax-exempt churches to intervene in partisan
politics, and the IRS needs an effective mechanism to enforce that

Americans United outlined its views in comments filed with the IRS yesterday.

"Given the pervasiveness of church politicking violations, as well
as efforts by some organizations in recent years to encourage houses of
worship to blatantly violate federal law," observed AU, "having a clear
and valid enforcement regime is absolutely essential for the ongoing
protection of religious liberty."

AU said the provisions of federal tax law serve to protect the integrity of religion.

"Americans United has long recognized that religion flourishes best
when the wall between church and state is vigilantly maintained," the
letter asserts. "Church politicking embroils houses of worship in
divisive battles, pitting congregants against each other and their

Continued AU, "The IRS limitation on partisan politicking is an
important legal requirement that ensures that houses of worship, like
all other non-profit organizations, do not embroil themselves in
partisan disputes."

AU's letter to the IRS, signed by Lynn and Legislative Director
Aaron D. Schuham, notes that the organization has a special interest in
this area. Since 1996, Americans United has sponsored Project Fair
Play, an educational effort designed to help pastors, laypeople and
citizens understand the "no politicking" rule.

In cases of egregious violations of the law, AU files formal
complaints with the IRS. Ninety-seven such complaints have been filed
since 1996.

The issue of church politicking has become more controversial in
recent years. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal
group, has been urging pastors to violate the "no politicking" rule by
endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. The ADF hopes to
spark a new test case and challenge federal tax law in court.

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.