Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Partisan Politicking By Anti-Gay D.C. Clergy Could Result In Loss Of Tax Exemption, Says Americans United

Partisan Politicking By Anti-Gay D.C. Clergy Could Result In Loss Of Tax Exemption, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Reminds Religious Leaders That Federal Tax Law Prohibits Election Intervention By Churches

May 6, 2009

A small band of clergy in Washington, D.C., yesterday threatened to mobilize politically and remove several members of the city council from office, prompting Americans United for Separation of Church and State to issue a reminder that church-based partisan politicking is illegal.

Anti-gay clergy are angry over a 12-1 vote by the District of Columbia Council recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Washington Post reported that after the vote, a group of ministers “vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill” and became so disruptive that police had to remove them.

“Religious leaders have the right to speak out for or against same-sex marriage, but they cannot use the resources of their churches to elect or defeat candidates,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Uniting houses of worship with partisan politics makes for a bad marriage and an unlawful one to boot.”
Lynn said Americans United will monitor the situation and will not hesitate to report churches to the Internal Revenue Service if they use their tax-exempt resources to intervene in any election by endorsing or opposing candidates.
Federal tax law says 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, including houses of worship, may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

Yet some ministers who attended the council meeting have vowed retaliation at the ballot box. The Washington Times reported that the Rev. Anthony Evans, an associate minister at Mount Zion Baptist Church, said of the 12 council members who supported the move, “Bottom line, they just kissed themselves goodbye.”

One minister reportedly even singled out a council member by name. “Catania first,” the Rev. Charlie Smith said of at-large Councilmember David Catania. “No matter what ward you’re in, you can vote Catania out.”

Americans United maintains a special effort called Project Fair Play, designed to educate clergy and the general public about the requirements of tax law. Since 1996, AU has reported 95 houses of worship and religious non-profits for violating the law.
In addition, the IRS has announced new efforts to make sure the no-politicking rule is followed. In 2008, the IRS issued a press release reminding churches that they may not intervene in partisan politics.

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.

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