FFRF investigates election abuse complaints

’Tis the season for FFRF to combat potentially illegal electioneering by churches and pastors. On Oct. 17, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service regarding the senior pastor of Summit Church in Wichita, Kan.

Senior Pastor Terry Fox ran an ad in the Wichita Eagle stating that he would speak “about how the Obama administration and its socialistic agenda is [sic] making the way for the Antichrist to take over the world.” Fox and Pastor Joe also host the church’s weekly radio show, on which they routinely breach the wall of state/church separation.

Fox stated on one show that “There’s no question in my mind that the sitting president we have today is far more evil and far more committed to a one-world government. . .”

These pastors also previously violated IRS rules when they endorsed Rick Santorum during the Republican presidential primary. The church’s publication, The Summit Informer, includes illegal political campaign intervention, including an issue in August which railed against Obama’s campaign strategies: “The secular left has mastered use of the Internet to further its extremist goals. In fact, President Obama’s web-based ‘Organizing for America’ propaganda machine may have given him the 2008 election. Let’s beat them at their own game.”

Romney endorsement

On Oct. 19, Markert wrote to the IRS about a sign outside of Church in the Valley, Leakey, Texas. The church’s marquee read, “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The capitalist, not the communist!”

Markert stated the church violated IRS regulations by expressly advocating its support from presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Bullies in the pulpit

FFRF’s legal staff continues to sift through complaints generated from the so-called Pulpit Freedom Sunday on Oct. 7 that was organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Religious Right law firm formerly called the Alliance Defense Fund. The pastors are thumbing their noses at the IRS, which has stopped enforcing the 1954 Johnson Amendment that requires political neutrality on candidates in order to maintain tax-exempt status.

It was first held in 2008 with 33 pastors taking part in 2008. A record 1,477 participated this year, organizers said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Skyline Church Pastor Jim Garlow ended his Sunday sermon in La Mesa with this: “Some came to hear to hear an endorsement. My endorsement will be Jesus. I’ll tell you whom I’m going to vote for, but I don’t think that makes it an endorsement. I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney, but I’m not telling you to.”

The Bloomberg News editorial board summed it up pretty well Oct. 3:
“The plan is for pastors to make explicit candidate endorsements in their churches, tape the endorsements and send the incriminating evidence to the Internal Revenue Service. . . . This is not a battle for free speech, in the pulpit or out. It’s a test of whether Americans are willing to allow a taxpayer subsidy to be used for partisan political activity.”

Voting in churches

FFRF continues to receive complaints from members distressed about voting in churches. FFRF sent three letters in October to elections officials asking them to refrain from selecting churches as polling places in their precincts.

Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert sent a letter to the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C., regarding a large picture of Jesus right above a voting booth in Christ Baptist Church.

Letters also were sent to the village clerk in Germantown, Wis., and the Orange County supervisor of elections in Orlando, Fla., asking them to “remove churches as polling places for future elections.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation