The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is asking the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax exempt status of an Albuquerque, New Mexico church that passed out sample ballots with particular candidates' names highlighted, Hemant Mehta reports.
Non-profit groups with 501(c)(3) status, like Albuquerque's Legacy Church, are prohibited from "participating in or intervening in] any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office." FFRF claims that Legacy Church's pastor, Steve Smothermon, was not only responsible for handing out the sample ballots, but also of endorsing candidates from the pulpit, which is a direct violation of IRS regulations.
"Paster Smothermon's partisan support is blatant," FFRF claimed. "He used the pulpit to endorse candidates and use church resources to endorse candidates. Given these partisan activities at official church function[s], Legacy Church violated the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt rules, which prohibit electioneering."
The ballots were brought to FFRF's attention by KOAT. Pastor Smothermon said of that report, "They try to intimidate, and I'm not going to let Channel 7 or any of these yahoos suppress our ability as Americans to have a say in this nation."
But Pastor Smothermon is not alone in his abuse of authority -- pastors from over 1,600 churches decided to openly flaunt their illegal electioneering this year. In 2008, only 33 pastors participated in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," but the 1,600 who participated this year not only used the bully pulpit on the Sunday before the election -- they did so throughout the weeks leading up to the midterms.
They justified their lawlessness by claiming that pastors are being singled out by the IRS, as they are forced to live bifurcated lives in which they are prohibited from connecting their spiritual beliefs and their First Amendment rights. They claim that living according to "biblical principles" requires they support one candidate over another, and that they should be free to do so in an official capacity, as their job is to tend to the spiritual well-being of their flock.
However, as FFRF's Annie Laurie Gaylor noted, "You can’t have a tax-exempt entity engaged in politics because that involves using tax-exempt money for political purposes, so it’s an unfair playing field."
The group is hoping that the IRS will, eventually, take action -- even though it refused to do so in the run-up to yesterday's midterm elections.