Explicit political endorsements on his church’s website by a California pastor drew the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which in late November requested an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Churches are barred from endorsing candidates as a condition of their tax-exempt status.
A concerned citizen alerted FFRF to a video by Rev. Perless Daniels Jefferson Jr., senior pastor at Rehoboth World Outreach Center, Church of God in Christ, in Vallejo, titled: “My Endorsement of Vallejo City Candidates for Nov. 8, 2011.”
“In the video, Pastor Jefferson exhorts his listeners to vote, something we applaud, but he goes too far,” noted FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott in a complaint letter to the IRS. “In all, Pastor Jefferson endorsed one candidate for mayor and three for the Vallejo City Council.”
Elliott further noted that Jefferson allegedly urged congregants to bring their absentee ballots to him so he could help them fill out the ballots.
IRS regulations prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from “[participating in or intervening in] . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
While leaders of churches or religious organizations may express their opinions on political matters as individuals, they are precluded from making “partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization.”
Jefferson was speaking as an official of the church and introduced himself as “pastor,” using an official church website to endorse candidates.
“The IRS should take appropriate action to remedy any violations of 501(c)(3) regulations,” Elliott said.