South Dakota’s Tea Party Candidate for Governor Tells Churches to Endorse Him

The South Dakota Republican gubernatorial primary is being held in a couple weeks.

One of the candidates is Gordon Howie, the Tea Party candidate. He doesn’t have the most money, but he thinks he still has a fighting chance:

Of the five GOP candidates for governor, the two with all the money are Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Senate Majority Leader Dave Knudson. They’re the establishment candidates that Howie hopes to topple.

In order to get support, what is Howie doing?

He’s telling churches to endorse him (PDF).

Of course, that would be illegal, since they are tax-exempt and are therefore not allowed to endorse one candidate over another… but Howie just ignores all that “Constitution” stuff:

“For too long, our spiritual leaders, have been neutralized in the public square,” Howie says. “Pastors and their congregations have been muzzled on Sunday mornings by the threat that their taxation status requires an enforced silence on who to vote for, and why. This is simply not true. Government regulation has no place behind the pulpit.“

“Our spiritual leaders, the men and women we trust most on matters of morality and responsible citizenry have every right to offer biblical guidance in helping their flocks align their spiritual values in choosing candidates who will return righteous rule to government,” Howie says.

Citing the “Pulpit Initiative of 2008,” a faith-based challenge to perceived Internal Revenue Service authority to regulate politically-oriented speech from the pulpit, Howie has scheduled Sunday morning and Wednesday night appearances at church services across South Dakota, to expose the truth regarding ministerial freedom in political endorsement. Pastor Scott Craig, who participated in the original ‘Pulpit Challenge,’ publicly endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He says a church’s tax status should not be allowed to serve as bribery in silencing their political message.

“The IRS basically tells churches, we will give you a financial kickback, if you give up your freedom of speech,” Craig says. “I was born an American citizen, guaranteed the right to freedom of speech. I didn’t give up my rights when I became a pastor.”

Neither Craig nor Howie understands the law.

Churches can endorse whomever they want — no one is stopping them — but in exchange, they have to pay taxes. It’s as simple as that. But you will never see churches jumping on that bandwagon. Their deal right now is too sweet to give up.

Pastor Craig can endorse whomever he wants in his capacity as a private citizen… but that changes when he steps into the pulpit.

One pastor has already listened to Howie and endorsed him in church:

On May 15, the Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle in Rapid City, officially endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie in his bid for governor during a church service.

Williams did not return a message last week when called by the Journal, but few here expect that his church will face repercussions from the Internal Revenue Service as a result of his sermon. Federal tax code prohibits all tax-exempt organizations, including charities and churches, from endorsing any candidate for public office.

Meanwhile, other pastors took a more responsible route:

Not from the Rev. Jeff Otterman, pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Belle Fourche, however. He called Howie’s Pulpit Challenge irresponsible and insulting to his congregation.

“The people at St. James are very well-read, and they don’t need their pastor telling them how to vote, or who to vote for,” Otterman said. “To back one candidate over another seems far-reaching and could alienate a congregation rather than create opportunity for growth.”

At Synagogue of the Hills, vice president Wayne Gilbert said its congregants hold divergent political opinions but all agree not to jeopardize the synagogue’s tax-exempt status over political activity.

“I don’t think any responsible leader of a tax-exempt religious group would be willing to risk tax-exempt status to endorse a candidate,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said the idea “that I should be instructed by a religious leader as to which candidate has the moral or religious high ground is personally insulting to me. I expect religious leaders to offer me insight and guidance into spiritual and moral matters, not secular and political ones.”

Even Howie’s own pastor has said he won’t endorse him from the pulpit because that’s an irresponsible thing to do.

… “I have encouraged our people to be participants in the political arena and showed them the scriptures that back it up,” [Bishop Lorenzo] Kelly said. “But I have not from the pulpit endorsed him. I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t put my church in jeopardy of anything.”

Howie is going to put every church out of business if they listen to him. They’ll be rightfully sued by every church/state organization in the country. The IRS will be all over it.

Hmm… Maybe South Dakotans should be voting for this guy. He sounds like an anti-theists’ best friend.

(via Religion Clause)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • fea24

    I’m all for the official de-neutralization of the churches. The tax revenue would be great.

  • Claudia

    It’s not like politically minded churches don’t already manage to get their messages out. If you think that the mormon churches didn’t send messages during Romney’s run or that no black churches sent messages to their flocks during Obama’s, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

    I’m against tax exemption for churches anyway. Charities, religious or not, are fine, but religious institutions should pay their fair share.

  • Aegis

    I’m with Claudia on this one. They’ve got the cash; let them put it to some use where it might help people for once.
    The biggest problem with ‘faith, hope and charity’ nowadays is that the name of the charity is ‘Rich Priests Who Need To Feel Richer’.

  • How did they get out of paying taxes int eh first place – every other business does, and they’re a business.

  • Hmm… Maybe South Dakotans should be voting for this guy. He sounds like an anti-theists’ best friend.

    Don’t encourage the crazies!!!

  • In 2008 there was a conservative movement encouraging ministers to endorse from the pulpit specifically in hopes of mounting a legal challenge to overthrow the current IRS rules.

  • Brandon

    “The IRS basically tells churches, we will give you a financial kickback, if you give up your freedom of speech,” Craig says. “I was born an American citizen, guaranteed the right to freedom of speech. I didn’t give up my rights when I became a pastor.”

    “But I’ll still take those financial kickbacks, thanks” Craig added. He then went on to have a piece of cake while eating it.

  • Josh

    Its about time churches started paying taxes anyway. If they give away their money, they can deduct it like the rest of us.

  • Erik

    From what I can tell, we won’t be electing this guy even if churches preach his name.