From AUcorbin@aol.com Tue Oct 31 08:41:36 2000
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 22:06:03 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Clinton, Gore Church Appearances Spark IRS Complaint
Clinton, Gore church appearances spark IRS complaint from church-state
Americans United for Separation of Church and State press release,
27 October 2000
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2000
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Contact: Joseph Conn or Rob Boston
Pulpit Politicking prohibited under Federal tax law, says Americans United
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Internal
Revenue Service to investigate two churches for possible violations of the
federal tax law's ban on church politicking.
Americans United asserted that the Alfred Street Baptist Church in
Alexandria, Va., and the Greater Grace Temple of the Apostolic Faith in
Detroit, Mich., engaged in partisan politicking during yesterday's church
services by encouraging support for Democratic candidate
"Federal tax law clearly prohibits church intervention in a political
campaign, but that appears to be exactly what these churches did," said the
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The election may
be just days away, but houses of worship have no business trying to help
rally support for specific candidates."
The Alfred Street Baptist Church appeared to cross the line by hosting a
partisan speech delivered by President Bill Clinton on behalf of Vice
President Al Gore and Virginia Sen. Chuck Robb.
"When I'm gone, I hope that Chuck Robb will be left behind," Clinton said
from the church's pulpit. He added, "I never saw anybody take more chances to
stick up for little people and lost causes."
While at the church's pulpit, Clinton also voiced his support for Gore. "I
shouldn't have to tell you who to vote for -- you already know who I'm for,"
Clinton said. "This is not rocket science."
As AU's Lynn said in his complaint to the IRS, "While efforts aimed at
increasing voter turnout would not present a problem, this event appears to
have been a campaign rally held during a church worship service that was
designed to benefit certain candidates. It also seems likely that a
significant degree of coordination between the church, the Robb campaign, the
Gore campaign and the White House would have been necessary to plan the
event. I believe this amounts to a church endorsement of the Robb and Gore
Americans United also reported today the political activities of the Greater
Grace Temple of the Apostolic Faith in Detroit. Immediately before Gore was
given an opportunity to deliver a campaign speech from the church's pulpit,
Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, pastor of the congregation, offered a partisan
introduction of the Democratic presidential candidate.
"We have seen in this state what Republican dominance and control will do,"
Ellis said. The election, he added, was therefore a "no-brainer. If it ain't
broke, don't fix it."
Ellis also chastised former President George Bush for naming Clarence Thomas
to the Supreme Court. Thomas, Ellis said, has "done more damage to the cause
of African Americans than all the justices that have come before him." Noting
it was Gov. George W. Bush's father who nominated Thomas, Ellis concluded,
"The branch does not fall far from the tree."
Following Gore's remarks, Ellis presented the Democratic nominee with a
jacket embroidered with the phrase, "President Al Gore."
Section 501(c)(3) of federal tax law prohibits tax-exempt organizations,
including churches, from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or
in opposition to candidates for public office.
The IRS has a "zero tolerance" policy for violations. In 1995 the federal
agency revoked the tax exemption of the Church at Pierce Creek in upstate New
York after the church paid for newspaper advertisements against presidential
candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. The IRS investigation was sparked by a formal
complaint filed by Americans United.
"Churches should never be turned into cogs in a partisan political machine,"
said AU's Lynn. "Whether it's Democratic candidates in inner-city churches or
Christian Coalition voter guides in fundamentalist churches, federal tax law
prohibits this kind of politicking to protect churches' integrity and the
democratic process. The law, therefore, must be followed."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington,
D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied
houses of worship in all 50 states.
National Grassroots Organizer
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
518 C Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
From AUcorbin@aol.com Tue Oct 31 08:41:42 2000
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 2000 22:05:43 -0600 (CST)
Subject: AU Reponds to Religious Right Attacks Over Election-Year Project
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2000
Americans United Responds To Attacks By The Christian Coalition, The American
Family Association And Jerry Falwell's Liberty Alliance
In recent days, a number of Religious Right groups, including Pat Robertson's
Christian Coalition, the American Family Association (AFA) and Jerry
Falwell's Liberty Alliance have levied attacks against Americans United for
Separation of Church and State over AU's election-year project to provide
educational information to religious leaders about the law on churches and
Falwell, Robertson and the AFA have sent letters to their supporters making a
variety of false and misleading claims. To help set the record straight,
Americans United has prepared the following "Questions & Answers" sheet,
responding to points raised by AU's critics.
Q. The Christian Coalition, the AFA and Jerry Falwell claim that Americans
United has mailed letters to religious leaders for the purpose of "confusing"
A. Americans United sent letters to 285,000 churches nationwide, not to
confuse people, but rather to provide them with accurate election-year
There are a number of groups, including the Coalition and the AFA, that are
attempting to politicize America's churches to advance a partisan agenda. We
believe that's morally and legally wrong. To help religious leaders have all
of the facts about federal tax law and the potential legal dangers a church
may face if the law is ignored, AU launched a first-of-its-kind mailing. Far
from trying to "confuse" anyone, we have provided accurate, objective and
Q. The AFA says that pastors already understand federal tax law and that AU's
educational information is not only unwarranted, but in fact, "arrogant."
A. Americans United's letter is educational information. It is true that most
pastors are generally aware of federal tax law and recognize that there are
legal limits on political activities. It is also true that the overwhelming
majority of religious leaders follow the law. Yet, with the Christian
Coalition and other Religious Right groups mounting aggressive campaigns to
encourage political activities by churches, many pastors have become
understandably unsure about what role houses of worship can play during the
campaign season. AU wanted to provide churches with accurate information they
might find helpful.
Q. The AFA has claimed that Americans United has given "no mention" to
churches working on behalf of Democratic candidates and the Christian
Coalition recently claimed that AU is a "front organization" for the
Democratic Party. Is this true?
A. These accusations are absolutely false. Unfortunately, AU's critics chose
to make these accusations without researching the facts. The truth is this:
Americans United's work is strictly non-partisan. Our organization does not
merely claim this to be true, we prove it with our work.
As a non-partisan organization, we believe that consistency is vital to
making the process fair and even handed. Accordingly, while we have actively
opposed churches working on behalf of Republican candidates, we have also
opposed church work on behalf of Democratic and even Independent candidates.
In fact, our first involvement with this subject came a decade ago with a
complaint against Jesse Jackson's attempted use of churches for fundraising
during his 1988 presidential campaign. We were also one of a few groups to
file a complaint with the IRS against the Buddhist temple that held a
fundraiser for Vice President Al Gore in 1996.
More recently, we have filed formal complaints with the IRS against several
churches for engaging in partisan activities on behalf of Democratic
candidates. Just this year, AU filed complaints against the Third New Hope
Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, Mich., for opposing George W. Bush's
candidacy and the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York for
endorsing Vice President Gore. Last year we reported the Asia Baptist Church
in New Orleans for supporting a Democratic candidate for governor.
Just this month, when The New York Times reported that Gore had asked a
number of African-American pastors to support his campaign from their
pulpits, Americans United wrote to Gore the next day, complaining that his
request was "highly inappropriate," and warning that his requested
endorsements "could put the tax-exempt status of those churches at risk."
Accordingly, the suggestion that we are acting under some kind of double
standard is inaccurate and unfair. Our efforts have been non-partisan and
without bias, and our record clearly proves this fact.
Q. Why, then, are Americans United's election-year efforts focused on the
A. We oppose any efforts to politicize America's churches, regardless of the
party or candidates that benefit. Our letter to religious leaders emphasized
the Christian Coalition because Robertson's group is the only national entity
that has launched a concerted effort to encourage churches to intervene in
this campaign. Moreover, while other organizations are making voter guides
available before the election, the Coalition is the only group to produce
partisan campaign materials every election in recent years.
Q. The AFA claims Americans United is trying to silence pastors about
important issues of the day, such as "abortion, homosexuality, personal
responsibility and accountability, and truthfulness," and the Christian
Coalition recently claimed that AU is trying to "silence the voice of
A. The law makes a clear distinction between partisan politicking on behalf
of a candidate and speaking out on important moral issues. Americans United
has been diligent in noting this distinction and informing churches of all
their legal rights. In fact, as our educational materials explain, the IRS
prohibition on partisan politicking by churches concerns candidate
endorsements, not issues.
Religious leaders are well within their rights to take stands on political
issues such as abortion, gay rights, gun control, health care and many
others. They may also support or oppose ballot referenda. There's a
difference between speaking on a political issue and distributing partisan
political materials on behalf of candidates.
Q. The Christian Coalition claims its guides are non-partisan.
A. Anyone who examines a Coalition voter guide would see this isn't true.
Since Robertson's group first began preparing the materials, it has
consistently shown a clear bias in support of certain candidates who share
the group's ideology. This year's guides are no different.
Many people wonder why there would be a problem with a voter guide if it
simply lists a variety of important issues and candidates' positions on those
issues. If that were all the Christian Coalition voter guides did, there
wouldn't be a problem. However, the Coalition deliberately slants its guides
to show a preference for one side over another.
Consider some of the "issues" used by the Coalition in the guide for this
year's presidential election. The guide shows the position of the candidates
on "Emphasizing Free Enterprise Solutions to Social Problems" and "Control of
Public Education by Powerful Unions." No reasonable person could describe
these issue descriptions as neutral, objective questions for a non-partisan
Consider the advice of a group that disagrees with our efforts. Pat
Robertson's own legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, has
prepared materials explaining that in order for voter guides to be legal for
church distribution, they "must be neutral and unbiased." (emphasis in the
original). The guides are not neutral because they frame issues to suggest
one answer is the right answer. By Robertson's own legal standards, his voter
guides do not meet the criteria for legal church distribution.
Q. So the guides are slanted and partisan. Can't the Christian Coalition
produce biased guides if it wants to?
A. Yes, the Coalition can produce partisan voter guides, but that doesn't
mean churches can distribute them. Why? Because the Coalition and houses of
worship have different tax-exempt statuses.
The Coalition falls under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which allows the
group to engage in significant electioneering. Churches, however, fall under
501(c)(3), which prohibits all partisan political activities. In other words,
the Christian Coalition can legally produce partisan voter guides, but
churches can't distribute them.
Q. The Christian Coalition claims a federal judge cleared the Coalition's
voter guides for distribution by churches.
A. This is transparently false. In fact, it is easy to disprove. The
Christian Coalition insists that U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green cleared
the group's voter guides in her Federal Election Commission v. Christian
Coalition decision, and Americans United maintains that she did not. Pastors
who hear both sides are understandably unsure as to whom to believe. We offer
a simple solution: read the decision. Despite Roberston's frequent claims,
nowhere in this ruling does the judge say that houses of worship are free to
legally distribute the Coalition's guides. Don't take our word for it: read
the decision for yourself. If Americans United is wrong, the decision will
back up Robertson's claims. If the Coalition's claim is not in the ruling,
you'll see that Americans United is telling the truth and that Robertson is
not. We encourage you to see for yourself. (The decision is available online
at http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/district-court4.html, the case number is Civil
Action No. 96-1781.)
Q. So what did happen in the Federal Election Commission v. Christian
A. The FEC claimed that the Coalition had illegally coordinated its
activities with the Republican Party. The Coalition was found to have
violated election law in two instances, but the group was cleared of a series
of other charges. Ironically, the court found that most of the charges of
illegal "coordination" had not occurred under election law because Republican
campaigns rebuffed the Coalition's advances. As the decision in this case
noted, this was "not for lack of trying" by the Coalition. In other words,
the Coalition tried to violate election law but failed.
Please note, instead of clearing the guides for church distribution, the
judge in this case observed in her decision that the group's voter guides
have "made clear which candidates the Coalition preferred." Of course, if the
guides prefer one candidate over another, they would constitute
"intervention" and churches would not be able to legally distribute them.
Q. If the judge never said churches can legally distribute the Coalition's
voter guides, why does the Christian Coalition keep saying the opposite?
A. Good question. Perhaps you should ask the Coalition.
Q. In a recent letter to CC supporters, Robertson says, "After a decade of
costly litigation, IRS attorneys admitted in court that Christian Coalition
deserved its tax-exempt status all along."
A. The IRS denied the Christian Coalition's application for tax-exempt status
in 1999, presumably for years of partisan political activities. To get around
that decision, the Coalition changed its name to the Christian Coalition of
America and took over its Texas chapter, which had its own tax-exempt status.
Last February, the Coalition sued the IRS in federal court, claiming that the
federal tax agency discriminated against the organization by denying it a tax
exemption. In July, the IRS agreed to settle the case by conceding that the
Coalition was tax exempt -- but only for the year 1990. The tax agency agreed
to refund the organization $169.26 in taxes it paid for that year. The result
of the settlement now means that Coalition was tax-exempt in 1990, but
obviously, this decision has no bearing on the ongoing voter guide
Q. Aren't Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell experts on the issue of churches
A. If Robertson and Falwell are experts on anything, it's running afoul of
the law and getting caught.
In February 1993, the Internal Revenue Service determined that funds from
Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour program were illegally funneled to a political
action committee. The IRS forced Falwell to pay $50,000 and retroactively
revoked the Old Time Gospel Hour's tax-exempt status for 1986-87. (The
Federal Election Commission also fined Falwell in October 1987 for
transferring $6.7 million in funds intended for his ministry to political
Robertson's record is no better. In March 1998, Robertson was forced to pay a
penalty to the IRS for illegal political activity by his Christian
Broadcasting Network. The IRS also retroactively revoked the tax-exemption
for CBN for 1986 and 1987.
Q. Why does federal tax law prohibit churches from engaging in partisan
A. Federal law prohibits church politicking to protect the integrity of the
church and the democratic process. Houses of worship are tax-exempt because
the government assumes that their work is charitable, not political. When a
church accepts tax-exempt status, the church's leaders agree that certain
conditions will be met, among them that their work will not be partisan.
To create a system where churches could act as political institutions while
maintaining their tax-exempt status would wreak havoc on the nation's
campaign finance laws and destroy the integrity of our churches. If
politicians and political parties could simply give
huge sums of money to houses of worship, write off the donations as
tax-deductible and then have the churches work on their behalf, that would
essentially make churches part of a money-laundering scheme. Tax law ensures
that this does not happen.
This isn't a question of squelching a church's free speech rights. In
exchange for a tax exemption, houses of worship voluntarily agree to follow
the tax law. If a church decides that it wants to actively promote candidates
for public office or form a political action committee, that church has every
right to give up its tax-exempt status and engage in as many political
activities as it pleases.
Q. Why doesn't the IRS simply issue a statement about churches and politics?
A. It did. On July 5, 2000, the Internal Revenue Service issued a forceful
warning (Document #IR-2000-47), reminding churches and other tax-exempt
charities that partisan political activities are strictly forbidden under
federal tax law.
The IRS statement says in no uncertain terms that tax-exempt groups,
including churches, "are prohibited from participating or intervening in any
political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for
public office." The agency's advisory went on to explain that churches cannot
escape responsibility by claiming non-partisan intentions.
"(A)ctivities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular
candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria nevertheless violate the
political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3)," the IRS said.
The IRS advisory noted that a New York legal group was denied tax-exempt
status because it issued ratings of candidates for office. In 1988, a federal
appellate court upheld the tax agency's action. That should be particularly
relevant to churches considering distribution of Christian Coalition voter
Q. Why doesn't the Coalition simply mail the group's voter guides to its
membership and leave churches out of its political efforts?
A. One, it would cost the group a lot more money. The Christian Coalition
claims to have over a million members, and mailing a specific voter guide to
each member would cost a great deal. It's cheaper for the Coalition to send
stacks of guides to houses of worship and let individual churches do the
work. Second, Robertson wants to build a political machine, which he himself
has said should emulate the infamous Tammany Hall machine. He feels roping
churches into a powerful political bloc is necessary to create this movement.
Q. If the Christian Coalition voter guides are impermissible for church
distribution, what would constitute an acceptable voter guide?
A. Americans United has a legal memorandum available on just this point. We
hired the top tax lawyers in Washington, including the former head of the
Exempt Organizations Ruling Area at the IRS, to prepare a specific
explanation about the legal requirements for voter guides to qualify as
permissible voter education. You can read the memorandum at
Q. Is there any point on which the two sides can agree about the voter guide
A. Reviewing the advice given to religious leaders from Robertson's legal
group, the American Center for Law and Justice, there are a great deal of
similarities with the advice given by Americans United. Both agree that
churches cannot endorse candidates but can speak out on important issues of
the day. The ACLJ also acknowledges that churches cannot intervene in
political campaigns; so does Americans United. The ACLJ even agrees that
churches cannot distribute partisan campaign literature in the sanctuary. The
only difference is that the ACLJ considers Christian Coalition voter guides
to be non-partisan, and Americans United has compiled ample evidence to prove
the guides are partisan.
Q. Falwell's letter to his supporters said AU "has not been successful in
attempting to revoke any church's tax-exempt status." Is this true?
A. Americans United filed a formal complaint with the IRS against The Church
at Pierce Creek near Binghamton, N.Y., after the church published a full-page
ad in USA Today in late October 1992 advising people that voting for
presidential candidate Bill Clinton was a sin. The church lost its tax-exempt
status in 1995 after the IRS determined it had violated federal tax law with
the advertisement. The church sued in federal court to regain its tax
exemption but lost in federal district court. A federal appellate court
unanimously upheld the lower court's ruling denying the church tax-exempt
It is worth noting that the IRS has investigated other churches based on
complaints filed by Americans United. For example, when AU reported the Allen
African Methodist Episcopal Church in New York earlier this year for
endorsing Vice President Gore, the IRS contacted the church's pastor, the
Rev. Floyd Flake, and according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, had
him sign a document indicating that he understands tax law and intends to
follow it. In other words, the IRS can and does follow up on Americans United
complaints about the partisan activities of houses of worship.
Q. Robertson's legal group said they'd defend in court any church that gets
into legal trouble with the IRS.
A. That's true, but Robertson's legal group also sued on behalf of the Church
at Pierce Creek. That church lost its tax-exempt status and lost its court
case, even with Robertson's legal help.
"The sole purpose of Americans United contacting churches during this
election season has been to help them with accurate, up-to-date information,"
said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of AU. "I have been
disappointed by the unfair and intemperate reaction from the Christian
Coalition, the American Family Association and Jerry Falwell's Liberty
Alliance. Despite the assertions made by these groups, religious leaders
nationwide should be cautious before engaging in any partisan political
activities that may invite legal difficulties for their churches.
"Pastors can understandably grow confused when they hear conflicting
information from outside groups," Lynn added. "The Christian Coalition claims
its guides have been cleared by a federal judge for church distribution, the
facts show otherwise. The Christian Coalition claims AU's work is biased, the
facts show otherwise. Pastors who want to know the truth should consider
these facts as they make up their minds. Read the court rulings, look at the
record, consider federal tax law and see who's telling the truth."
National Grassroots Organizer
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
518 C Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002