Tuesday, September 28, 2010

IRS Should Investigate Oklahoma Church That Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate

September 28, 2010

Church-State Watchdog Group Calls On Tax Agency To Investigate Fairview Baptist Church For Illegal Electioneering

The Internal Revenue Service should investigate an Edmond, Okla., church whose pastor endorsed a gubernatorial candidate from the pulpit, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Pastor Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church endorsed Republican hopeful Mary Fallin from the pulpit during services Sept. 26.

Federal law prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit groups, which includes houses of worship, from intervening in elections by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

“When churches become cogs in any candidate’s political machine, they ought to lose their tax exemption,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “I urge the IRS to investigate this matter and apply the law.”

In a complaint filed with the IRS today, Lynn said the facts are clear.

“Blair is a top official and paid staff member of Fairview Baptist Church,” wrote Lynn in the letter. “He was speaking to the congregation in his official capacity and during a church meeting. As such, his candidate endorsement from the pulpit constitutes an official endorsement by the nonprofit religious organization itself.”

Lynn noted that this is the second time Blair has flouted federal law. In 2008, Blair endorsed U.S. Sen. John McCain for president from the pulpit.

Blair issued the endorsements as part of “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an annual event sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). The ADF, a Religious Right legal group founded by TV preachers, prods pastors to openly defy the law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

To counter the ADF’s church electioneering scheme, Americans United maintains a Web site called Project Fair Play (www.projectfairplay.org) that educates religious leaders and the American public about what houses of worship may and may not do in the political arena. As part of the project, Americans United reports pastors who violate the law to the IRS.

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.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Americans United, Allies Urge Federal Appeals Court To Rehear Case Challenging Religiously Based Hiring Bias

September 20, 2010

Religious Groups That Accept Tax Funding Should Not Be Able To Fire Staff For Being The ‘Wrong’ Religion, Says AU’s Lynn

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and allied groups have asked a federal appellate court to reconsider a decision dealing with religious bias in hiring at publicly funded “faith-based” charities.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently that World Vision, an evangelical Christian relief agency, had the right to fire workers who hold views that conflict with the agency’s religious viewpoint.

The case was brought by three former employees in Washington state who are Christian, but do not subscribe to all the doctrinal points in World Vision’s statement of belief.

Americans United is concerned that the court did not give adequate consideration to the fact that World Vision received 29 percent of its 2009 budget of $1.2 billion from government sources.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, AU and allied organizations have asked the judges who decided Spencer v. World Vision, Inc. – or the entire 9th U.S. Circuit – to rehear the case to make it clear that allowing publicly funded groups like World Vision to discriminate in employment on religious grounds raises serious church-state issues.

“Religious groups have the right to impose theological requirements on staff in privately funded positions, but when tax money enters the picture, that must change,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “No one should be denied a taxpayer-funded job for being the ‘wrong’ religion. That makes a mockery of our nation’s commitment to eradicating discrimination.”

In addition to Americans United, other groups joining the Sept. 17 friend-of-the-court brief include The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Humanist Association.

The brief was drafted by Bradley Meissner of the law firm DLA Piper and by Ayesha N. Khan, Americans United’s legal director.

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.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of a Landmark JFK Speech!

On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave one of the most important speeches on church and state in American history. Refuting charges that his Catholic religious affiliation would interfere with his presidential duties, Kennedy outlined the proper constitutional relationship between religion and government.

Watch an excerpt from the speech

Read the full speech

Listen to the speech

A special event in Washington, D.C.
Voices of Reason - Rob Boston: Reflections on John F. Kennedy’s Famous Address on Churches & Politics

Ralph Reed -- Will Voters Forget His Casino-Lobbyist Past?

Ralph Reed Is Betting Evangelical Voters Will Forget His Casino-Lobbyist Past, Says Americans United

Former Christian Coalition Director Seeks To Regain Religious Right Leadership Role With D.C. ‘Strategy Briefing’

Read the full press release at au.org


September 9, 2010
Former Christian Coalition Director Seeks To Regain Religious Right Leadership Role With D.C. ‘Strategy Briefing’
Hoping to reemerge as a leader of the Religious Right, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed will hold a national meeting in Washington, D.C., Sept. 10-11 under the auspices of his new Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Reed will be successful only if evangelical Christians engage in a case of collective amnesia, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

“This is the same Ralph Reed who carried water for the casino industry in the Jack Abramoff scandal,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This is the same Ralph Reed who misled his evangelical friends while collecting a lot of dough.”

Added Lynn, “Reed is gambling that evangelicals are willing to forgive his past sins, but I sure wouldn’t bet on that.”

After leaving the Christian Coalition in 1997, Reed followed a checkered career as a lobbyist and political strategist. He became enmeshed in the Abramoff scandal when documents surfaced showing that Reed had been paid more than $5 million by two Indian tribes that owned casinos.

The tribes were Abramoff clients who wanted to fend off attempts by other tribes to establish competing casinos. Reed worked with Abramoff to mobilize conservative Christians to oppose the new casinos – without telling them that the established gambling interests would benefit.

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.

Religious Right Ready To Be ‘Born Again’?

Lazarus Rising: Is The Religious Right Ready To Be ‘Born Again’ In The 2010 Elections?

An Americans United Special Report

Read the full press release at au.org


September 9, 2010
An Americans United Special Report

The past two years have been difficult for the Religious Right. President Barack Obama opposes the agenda of the religious-political movement, and congressional leaders have generally turned a deaf ear. Some commentators even pronounced the Religious Right dead.

But claims of the Religious Right’s demise are often premature. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the Religious Right has proven hard to kill.

Religious Right groups are waging a massive under-the-radar campaign this fall to register church-going voters, drive congregants to the polls and elect favored candidates. These organizations believe their allies in the Republican Party are poised to make significant advances, and they want to make sure that one or both houses of Congress move to GOP control.

Upcoming events include:

Sept. 10-11: Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference & Strategy Briefing, Washington, D.C.

Former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed is attempting a comeback with a new Religious Right organization. This D.C. event will be the group’s first major public conference, and Reed – a political strategist implicated in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandals – claims to be raising $32 million to steer conservative Christians to the polls.

Sept. 17-18: Values Voter Summit, Washington, D.C.

This annual event, sponsored by the Family Research Council and its allies, has become the leading Religious Right conference in the nation. A number of GOP congressional candidates will speak to the hundreds of attendees. In addition to the FRC, sponsors include the American Family Association, the Heritage Foundation and Liberty University.

Sept. 19: Pray & A.C.T., Washington, D.C.

This nationwide project, which calls for 40 days of fasting prior to the elections, is endorsed by a broad coalition including evangelist Lou Engle, Newt Gingrich, Chuck Colson, Mike Huckabee and Southern Baptist lobbyist Richard Land, among others. The D.C. kickoff is Sept. 19 and the closeout event is Oct 30 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The coalition aims to “transform the culture” by “voting in all elections only for candidates who affirm the sanctity of life in all stages and conditions, the integrity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty and respect for conscience.” Pray & A.C.T. organizer Engle depicts politics as a battle between good and evil, between “kingdom power” and “this present darkness.”

Sept. 20: 40/40 Prayer Vigil.

Sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, this nationwide 40-day event claims to focus on personal spiritual revival. However, it begins with a prayer for voter registration, includes a prayer for Christians to run for office and ends with a prayer for “discernment of candidates” and for “God’s people to vote.”

Sept. 26: Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

During this event sponsored by the Alliance Defense Fund, evangelical pastors nationwide will be encouraged to violate federal tax law by endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit.

The Religious Right And The GOP: BFFs?

Why so many events and projects that feature voter mobilization or other activities tied to electoral politics?

The Religious Right’s fortunes are closely tied to the Republican Party’s. When the GOP lost power in Washington in 2006 and 2008, the Religious Right also took a hit. Its legislative proposals have stalled, and it finds itself unable to counter legislation, court appointments and other actions it opposes.

Eager to regain power in the nation’s capital (and in state legislatures), the Religious Right is going all out to do whatever it can to help its political allies get elected to public office.

Voter registration, mobilization and get-out-the-vote efforts are key to the effort. Polls show that regular churchgoers are much more likely to vote Republican. In addition, a recent poll conducted by the Pew Forum found that 74 percent of evangelicals say they are likely to vote in 2010. Religious Right groups are eager to keep this segment of the GOP fired up until Nov. 2.

A steady string of conferences, voter registration events, voter-guide distribution and other activities will help.

What About The Tea Party?

Some political analysts have speculated that the Religious Right has been overshadowed by the Tea Party movement.

This is an oversimplification. The Tea Party remains a wild card, but there’s no reason why this movement cannot exist alongside or in tandem with the Religious Right. Although they don’t see eye to eye on every issue, the Religious Right and the Tea Party share the same goal: drastically changing the political calculus in Washington.

It is true that the Tea Party – a loosely structured conglomeration of anti-government activists – remains divided over social issues. Some activists want to incorporate these issues into the movement, while others want to keep the focus on matters like low taxes and deregulation. Because the Tea Party is decentralized, there is no reason why the factions that favor adding social issues to the plate can’t pursue that goal and work with the Religious Right.

Religious Right organizations are working to woo the Tea Party – or create their own version of it. The Family Research Council held a special session for Tea Party activists last year and plans to do so again during this year’s “Values Voter Summit.” In a recent e-mail message promoting the event, FRC President Tony Perkins noted that U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, “a Tea Party favorite,” will be among the speakers.

Some right-wing figures, notably Sarah Palin, straddle both camps and may serve as a bridge between the two. But in the end, it almost doesn’t matter if the two arms formally cooperate or not. Their goal is the same: elect as many ultra-conservatives to public office as possible. They can work together on this or do it on parallel tracks.

Another example of cross-pollination between the two camps is Glenn Beck. Beck, the bombastic Fox News Channel host, held rallies at the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 27 and 28. Although Beck is a Mormon, he often features “Christian nation” rhetoric on his program, and his events took on the trappings of a religious revival. Among the speakers was David Barton, a Texas Religious Right activist (and former GOP state official) who insists that church-state separation is a myth.

Polls show that many voters are unhappy over the state of the economy and high unemployment. If this sentiment creates a political shift that elects more Tea Party-friendly candidates, it’s inevitable that some of those elected will also have a far-right social-issues agenda. In this sense, the Religious Right gets a free ride for its issues.

Americans United Comment
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is the leading national watchdog group of the Religious Right. Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, who is a Christian minister as well as an attorney, frequently debates Religious Right leaders in the media and the in the court of public opinion. Lynn has tracked the Religious Right and led the opposition to it since the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s.

For expert commentary on the Religious Right, contact Americans United’s Communications Department, communications@au.org.

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.