The Freedom From Religion Foundation is drawing attention to an upcoming gathering in West Virginia that is aiming to persuade churches to break election rules.
This Friday, Nov. 2, the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, a radical Religious Right organization, is partnering with notorious hate group the Family Research Council to hold a political event in Beckley, W.Va., for area pastors that promises to inform attendees about an “actual witch” who is running for the West Virginia House of Delegates. An advertisement for the event also lists discussion topics, including “Satan’s design to allow his agents to exploit vulnerabilities in traditional church operations.”
Most alarming, though, is the event’s pitch to ministers to “hear insider data so you may prepare your congregations for the voting booth.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation seeks to remind pastors that if their churches endorse particular candidates or political parties, they are violating the law and risk losing their tax-exempt status. This rule is particularly critical just days before an election.
This prohibition, known as the Johnson Amendment, has been under fierce attack by President Trump. Trump recently lied to a group of evangelical leaders by saying, “Now one of the things I’m most proud of is getting rid of the Johnson Amendment... In the last 18 months alone, we have stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights.” Trump also claimed that he had repealed the Johnson Amendment as part of a 2017 “religious liberty” executive order.
FFRF sued Trump over this assertion, and the Justice Department admitted in court filings — twice — that Trump’s proclamation did not and could not repeal a congressional statute. As was reported by The Washington Post, Politico and others, Trump’s attorneys conceded, “The order does not exempt religious organizations from the restrictions on political campaign activity applicable to all tax-exempt organizations.” FFRF dismissed its lawsuit because the Trump administration admitted that the president had simply lied when he claimed that he had repealed the Johnson Amendment.
West Virginia churches should be aware that any groups urging them to tell their congregation which candidates to vote for are urging them to break the law. Out of respect for the rule of law, the constitutional separation between church and state, and to keep the divisiveness of politics out of church congregations, FFRF urges all West Virginia churches to let their congregants decide which candidates or political parties to vote for on their own.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 32,000 members across the country and members in every state. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.