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Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

FFRF urges IRS to look into church electioneering

FFRF is asking the IRS to investigate electioneering by church groups in four states. Multiple churches in Alaska, California, New Mexico and Texas have engaged in politicking, according to an investigation in the Texas Tribune.

As nonprofit organizations, churches are given a 501(c)(3) status, allowing for donations to be tax exempt. However, keeping this status requires a nonprofit organization, either secular or religious, to refrain from engaging in directly encouraging members of their organization to support one political party over another. FFRF has compiled a series of letters detailing churches that have engaged in electioneering and politicking, and is asking the IRS to determine if these churches are no longer suitable for a 501(c)(3) status.

FFRF Equal Justice Works Fellow Kat Grant wrote IRS Commissioner Douglas O’Donnell that such conduct is a violation of IRS Code.

Pastor Greg Fairrington of the Destiny Christian Church, based in Rocklin, Calif., reportedly conducted a service with blatant politicking on May 16. Fairrington prayed in front of his congregation, stating, “Lord God, that you would inspire voters here in the state of California to cast their vote for the sanctity of life. Lord God, that they would get behind a conservative Christian candidate.”

Several Texas churches also were reported to have engaged in electioneering. On April 7, Carver Park Baptist Church Senior Pastor Gaylon Foreman explicitly voiced support for Waco Independent School District school board candidate Marlon Jones. First Baptist Grapevine Senior Pastor Doug Page in Grapevine, Texas, and Gateway Church Senior Pastor Robert Morris in Southlake, Texas, made statements asking their respective churches to support multiple candidates as part of their “church families.” 

These examples, and many others, would disqualify each church from retaining 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization, which allows donations to these institutions to be tax exempt. “The Internal Revenue Code states that to retain their 501(c)(3) status an organization cannot ‘participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,’” FFRF writes to the IRS.

FFRF takes its status as a nonprofit organization very seriously. The state/church watchdog is careful to avoid dispensing endorsements to any candidate in any political race.

“Tax-free status is a huge benefit, a public subsidy that is awarded to nonprofit organizations contingent in part on a lack of electioneering,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor says. “Secular nonprofits are well aware of this fact while many churches are overtly flouting the law. The IRS must set an example by penalizing them for this abuse of public trust.”