Church in Trouble for Endorsing… a Democrat?

Usually when you hear about a pastor violating his church’s tax-exempt status by endorsing a candidate, the candidate is conservative, Born-Again, Republican, anti-gay, anti-woman, etc.

That’s not always the case, though.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is asking the IRS to look into a church whose pastor recently endorsed Barack Obama:

Obama spoke during services at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Las Vegas on Jan. 13 in what the Las Vegas Review-Journal described as a “surprise appearance.” Before the Illinois senator arrived, Pastor Leon Smith told the congregation, “The more he (Obama) speaks, the more he wins my confidence, and … if the polls were open today, I would cast my vote for this senator.”

Smith added, “If you can’t support your own, you’re never going to get anywhere…. I want to see this man in office.”

“The pastor clearly stated that Obama should be elected, and he did so from the pulpit during Sunday services,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It’s impossible to see this as anything but an endorsement.”

Not that anyone questioned this, but it just goes to show that groups like AU are not partisan, looking to attack Republicans only.

More than anything, they’re interested in playing fair.

Even when it comes to churches endorsing candidates who support AU’s basic mission.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Shane

    No churches should have tax-exempt status. Problem solved.

    Endorse whomever you want and do whatever you want in your club house–just expect to pay for the privilege like everyone else has to.

  • http://atheismandcoffee.blogspot.com overcaffein8d

    Shane is right.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    No churches should have tax-exempt status. Problem solved.

    Endorse whomever you want and do whatever you want in your club house–just expect to pay for the privilege like everyone else has to.

    Strange. I thought most people here were for the separation of church and state? As soon as churches start having to pay taxes, they automatically get the right to start meddling in government affairs, just “like everyone else”. I thought that’s what we were trying to avoid?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    We have our cub-scout meetings in a close-by United Methodist church. I remember from four years ago, EVERY classroom door in the church had Bush/Cheney stickers on them. These stickers were up for a least a couple of months before the last election. The church looked like a Republican political campaign headquarters. The pastor must either have been a political activist or turned a blind eye away from a zealous congregation. I’m curious if they will pull the same stunt this time around. Maybe I will take some pictures.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

  • HappyNat

    Strange. I thought most people here were for the separation of church and state? As soon as churches start having to pay taxes, they automatically get the right to start meddling in government affairs, just “like everyone else”. I thought that’s what we were trying to avoid?

    I don’t have a problem with churches endorsing canidates and meddling in politics, if they are all paying taxes. Many of them do that now and these investigations only “catch” a small percentage of those that meddle. I think churches should be treated “just like everyone else”, that is the only way to make it fair. Let them say and do what they want and not hide behide the cloak of religion. If a canidate is in the pocket of a church I’d rather it be out in the open.

  • Allison

    It doesn’t surprise me too much. I live in Democrat territory and, while I haven’t been into the churches much, a lot of the local ones are very politically active. But yes, I’m glad that AU’s taking its job seriously, no matter who the endorsement’s for.

    Jeff, I would definitely be taking pictures if it happens again this year. That’s pretty blatant.

  • AJ

    MikeClawson ,

    Strange. I thought most people here were for the separation of church and state? As soon as churches start having to pay taxes, they automatically get the right to start meddling in government affairs, just “like everyone else”. I thought that’s what we were trying to avoid?

    This is a different issue that applies to charities, not religions. Churches do not have the right to intrude on the separation of church and state if they start paying taxes. Under the constitution, no one, churches included, has that right to use the government to impose religion or to stop others freely exercising theres.

    When we talk about the separation of church and state we’re not talking about churches endorsing candidates. In my mind the ease of religion to gain charitable status, and the relative difficulty of them to lose it is the issue. Clearly they’re not just charities, and favouring them in this way is a clear breach of the separation of church and state. They may not be seeking profit, but they seem to be seeking converts and money to pay their “employees”, themselves. I doubt that non-religious organisations would find it as easy if they tried to do the same thing.

  • stogoe

    Usually when you hear about a pastor violating his church’s tax-exempt status by endorsing a candidate, the candidate is conservative, Born-Again, Republican, anti-gay, anti-woman, etc.

    Umm…not really. Yes, the endorsement of bigots by churches is rampant. But you don’t see anyone filing complaints or actually caring about it. Only when a church endorses a Democrat does it require anything more than a wink and a nod.

    Strange. I thought most people here were for the separation of church and state? As soon as churches start having to pay taxes, they automatically get the right to start meddling in government affairs, just “like everyone else”. I thought that’s what we were trying to avoid?

    Look, Mike, they already are meddling in government affairs – selecting which judges can be appointed, infesting the Air Force Academy, trying to outlaw homosexuality. And no one calls them on it, no one punishes them for breaking the law. So let’s tax the fuck out of them, because they’re already doing everything they can to subvert democracy to the will of the pulpit.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    Look, Mike, they already are meddling in government affairs – selecting which judges can be appointed, infesting the Air Force Academy, trying to outlaw homosexuality. And no one calls them on it, no one punishes them for breaking the law.

    Maybe so, and I agree that churches who do such things ought to be penalized and lose their tax exempt status. But you can’t have it both ways. Either churches are tax exempt, and thus are not allowed to endorse candidates or legislation (and can be penalized if they do); or they are not tax exempt, and thus have the right to endorse any candidate and any legislation they want. The AUSCS seems to be in favor of the former, though I personally could go either way on it. However, again, you can’t have it both ways. To expect someone to pay taxes to the government without having a say in that government is fundamentally unjust. Anyone remember the saying that sparked off this nation in the first place?

  • Jbs

    No one is saying a non-tax-exempt church shouldn’t be allowed to endorse whatever legislation they want. But, that legislation would still have to be constitutional, so a church can support establishing ther religion, but the courts would have to strike it down.

  • http://supercheetah.livejournal.com Rene Horn

    No, that’s not it Mike. Most of use want separation of state from church–not necessarily the other way around. Right now it goes both ways because churches currently get tax exemption status. If that weren’t the case, I don’t think most of us would care what political position they take.

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    My only point is that tax-exemption for churches exists out of a concern to support the separation of church and state (in both directions), not out of any desire to undermine it.

    Besides which aren’t most non-profit, donation-based, social organizations tax exempt? Churches aren’t being singled out for special favor here. They’re treated the same as any other civic, business, or social club in this regard.

  • http://supercheetah.livejournal.com Rene Horn

    I see what you mean Mike, but I just think that the entire idea of having tax exemptions for any entity that influences political ideologies (including atheistic orgs like SSA or CFI) is murky territory. Where does the line stop for what they can and cannot say?

  • http://emergingpensees.com MikeClawson

    I just think that the entire idea of having tax exemptions for any entity that influences political ideologies (including atheistic orgs like SSA or CFI) is murky territory. Where does the line stop for what they can and cannot say?

    I agree, it’s problematic. That’s why I said I’m ambivalent on the issue. Personally I think the Christian gospel is inherently political (e.g. the central confession “Jesus is Lord” carries with it the implied corollary, in it’s original context, that “Caesar is not”), so it would be hard to be faithful to the gospel without being politically involved IMHO.

    For instance, my church is very involved in making life better in Haiti, and part of that is concern for issues like debt relief. If I tell my congregation about a bill in the House right now to speed up the debt relief timeline for Haiti, is that crossing a line? But, then, how could I not bring it up when the Lord’s Prayer, which we pray nearly every week, includes an explicit statement about debt relief?

    Anyhow, like you said, it’s complicated. I’d be fine with it either way, but for now we do our best to obey the law. (For instance, since we meet in my living room I take down my yard signs for the local Democratic congressional candidate before church on Sunday, just in case that might be perceived as an official church endorsement of a candidate. :) )

  • little bird

    Usually when you hear about a pastor violating his church’s tax-exempt status by endorsing a candidate, the candidate is conservative, Born-Again, Republican, anti-gay, anti-woman, etc.

    Actually, I haven’t heard about that. What were the instances where those pastors/churches were penalized?


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