An apparent attempt by a church in Alabama to influence the upcoming senatorial election shows why the ban on church electioneering needs to be preserved.
FFRF has requested that the IRS commence an immediate investigation into Living Way Ministries in Opelika, Ala., after a concerned citizen informed it that the church recently displayed a political message on its marquee. On Nov. 30, the marquee read:
"THEY FALSELY ACCUSED JESUS! VOTE ROY MOORE"
The marquee has since been reportedly changed to remove the "Vote Roy Moore" endorsement.
Moore is, of course, a candidate for a special election on Tuesday, Dec. 12, for the U.S. Senate to replace Jeff Sessions.
IRS regulations (known as the Johnson Amendment) currently specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited 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."
The tax package passed by the U.S. House expressly gets rid of the Johnson Amendment. The Senate version does not contain the repeal. The two versions still need to be reconciled, though, providing an opportunity for President Trump and the Religious Right to continue to press for its dismantling. The attack on the Johnson Amendment persists, despite overwhelming support for its safeguards by the public, nonprofits and even churches.
"Living Way Ministries appears to have inappropriately used its religious organization to intervene in a political campaign," FFRF Legal Director Rebecca Markert writes to IRS official Mary Epps in the Dallas office. "It violated IRS regulations by expressly advocating its support for Roy Moore. Given these partisan activities, Living Way Ministries violated the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt rules, which prohibit electioneering."
FFRF is requesting that the IRS commence an immediate investigation to determine whether Living Way Ministries violated IRS regulations prohibiting churches and other religious organizations from participating in and/or intervening in a political campaign. And the state-church watchdog urges the agency to take appropriate action to remedy any violations that occurred or which continue to occur.
"This case is a cautionary tale," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Our nation will be blanketed with political church marquees and our elections full of 'stained glass' dark money if the Johnson Amendment is rescinded by Congress."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional principle of separation of state and church with about 30,000 members across the country, including in Alabama.