Organization Takes Aim At Oklahoma Churches Endorsing Candidates

Tuesday, November 27th 2012, 10:17 pm
By: News 9

An organization supporting a strict separation between church and state is suing the federal government in an attempt to keep political endorsements away from the pulpit.

At Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Pastor Paul Blair does not shy away from talking politics. In fact, dozens of churches in Oklahoma actually endorse candidates.

A law, nearly 60 years old, makes it illegal for any tax-exempt organizations to endorse a political candidate. It's the very law the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants the IRS to start enforcing against churches.

"If churches use [donated] money or their power and prestige to endorse from the pulpit, it's an unfair battle," Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion co-president said.

The organization says about 1,500 pastors recently bragged that they publicly endorsed candidates for president. Baptist Pastor Paul Blair was one of them.

"The federal government doesn't have the right to come in and tell me what I can and cannot preach about to my congregation," Blair said.

Blair says even with the current law, the IRS has no power to add mandates to tax exemptions for churches because churches have always been tax-exempt organizations, ever since the nation was formed through the separation of church and state.

"They are trying to get the IRS to enforce a law that doesn't exist," Blair said.

Freedom From Religion members are arguing the exact opposite, and they are ready to make that argument in court. They want to get the IRS moving in the direction they see fit.

"Ministers who claim to be holier than thou and more moral than other people should not be breaking the law," Gaylor said.

Freedom From Religion says it is only targeting churches that endorse candidates. The organization does not have a problem with churches endorsing ideals or moral values.

Besides filing the lawsuit, there has been no other action taken in court as of late November.

Forty-five churches in Oklahoma endorsed political candidates this year by participating in a service called Pulpit Freedom Day.