For a long time, a double standard has been applied to the parties’ efforts to use religious groups to organize support. When conservative, evangelical churches encourage their members to vote for culturally conservative candidates, they are viewed with suspicion in the press and, in some instances, by the Internal Revenue Service. In the early 1990s, the IRS harassed the Church at Pierce Creek in New York, ultimately revoking its tax-exempt status, an action that was upheld by the federal courts. The American Center for Law and Justice reports:
The case revolves around an open letter that was published in the fall of 1992 by The Church at Pierce Creek in Binghamton, New York. The letter, which was published in USA Today, challenged candidate Bill Clinton’s stance on abortion, homosexuality and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. The church used biblical passages to support its position on these issues.
In January 1993, the IRS began its investigation of the incident and following a two-year campaign of intimidation and harassment, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of The Church at Pierce Creek in January 1995 because it said the church violated the IRS code which prohibits organizations that receive tax-deductible contributions from participating in partisan politics.
Current IRS regulations, as summarized just one month ago by Jay Sekulow, the ACLJ’s Chief Counsel, provide that “pastors and churches cannot endorse or oppose a candidate for political office.”
Yesterday, John Kerry made a campaign appearance at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami. Kerry gave a campaign speech disguised as a sermon, held hands with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and was applauded by a sign-waving congregation. Here are some photos from the event; click to enlarge:
This wasn’t a church service, it was a campaign rally. To suggest that this church and its minister did not endorse Kerry would be absurd. It’s time to level the playing field, and either abandon the principle that churches can’t endorse candidates, or apply the current rules equally to both sides.