WASHINGTON – The local Democratic Party is supporting an Internal Revenue Service investigation of an Arkansas pastor who is accused of delivering a pro-Bush sermon July 4.
The Washington County Democratic Committee issued a statement affirming a complaint filed by Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, against Ronnie Floyd, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springdale.
The Democrats say the sermon should be “investigated thoroughly.”
The party, the statement said, “looks forward to the day when all citizens may vote their conscience without their political beliefs being dictated to them by politically involved religious leaders, regardless of denomination.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the pastor’s July 4 sermon, suggesting it endorsed the re-election of President Bush and therefore violated the conditions of the church’s tax-exempt status.
“American democracy is rooted in the principle of the separation of church and state,” the Democratic committee’s statement said. “The Washington County Democratic Party remains committed to maintaining this value and belief if only in our small corner of the state.”
Associate Pastor Alan Damron of First Baptist replied in a prepared statement: “Contrary to the statement by the Washington County Democratic Party, ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the United States Constitution. Our Constitution guarantees the right for all to speak on political, social, moral, and biblical issues. The Constitution includes pastors and churches. There have been American religious leaders past and present who did not and have not withheld their opinions about social issues or moral issues and/or politicians who supported or opposed various American rights. If the pastors or churches are not protected by the First Amendment, then neither are professors, or non-profit, tax-exempt educational institutions. The July 4th sermon of Pastor Ronnie Floyd exemplifies the best of our American tradition of freedom and democracy. The message did not violate any IRS provision by any stretch of the imagination, and is most assuredly protected by the First Amendment, that protects us all, even those who may disagree with us.”
The church itself issued a statement yesterday: “The alleged letter of complaint to the Internal Revenue Service from Mr. Barry Lynn of the ‘Americans United for the Separation of Church and State’ is nothing more than a threat to pastors and our churches in America, attempting to intimidate the church into silence. This threat ‘to take away our tax-exempt status’ based on a July 4 presentation has no credence at all. Pastor Floyd did not violate any laws, nor did he or the church endorse a particular candidate. An attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues and political activity of non-profit organizations has viewed the message presented on July 4 and calls Mr. Lynn’s accusations unfounded. Mr. Lynn attempts to intimidate pastors and churches by baseless allegations during every election cycle.”
The statement pointed out that the Internal Revenue Service has not taken away the tax-exempt status from any church in the history of our nation for political reasons.
“It appears that some people have two rule books, one for liberal, and one for conservative politics,” the statement continued.” The fact is that history does not support the baseless threats hurled against conservative churches. Since 1934, when the lobbying restriction was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), not one church has ever lost its tax-exempt status.”
Lynn’s letter to the IRS reads, in part: “The pastor’s description of the candidates’ stands and their personal religious beliefs was obviously aimed at encouraging congregants to cast ballots for Bush. The church is known for its stands on social issues and its opposition to legal abortion and gay rights. By lauding Bush’s stands on these and other issues and attacking (Sen. John) Kerry’s, Floyd was plainly telling his congregation to be sure to vote for Bush.
“I have enclosed a videotape that includes the entire sermon as well as a partial transcript. About 45 minutes into the message, Floyd begins to discuss the differences between Bush and Kerry. Please note that even the imagery employed by the church is designed to promote Bush. A huge photo of Bush is projected onto a screen that shows the president next to an American flag. By contrast, small photos of Kerry are used that show him as one person in a larger crowd. In addition, Bush is shown signing a ban on late-term abortions, an act most church members will laud, while Kerry is shown as one of a group of senators who opposed a law banning same-sex marriage, a stand most church members will likely oppose.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is one of two organizations in the news for monitoring political statements delivered from America’s church pulpits.
In Kansas, monitors from the Mainstream Coalition are being accused of creating a “chilling effect” on the sermons in that state’s churches.
Last month, the Mainstream Coalition announced it would send volunteers into area churches to see whether pastors were abiding by federal laws governing political activity by non-profit institutions.
While the group maintains it is non-partisan and objects across the board to all kinds of politicking in the pews, the organization’s website shows the Mainstream Coalition has a strong political agenda of its own. Policy statements posted include the following:
- strong support of Roe v. Wade
- strong support of late-term abortions
- strong support of sex education
- strong support of human cloning
- strong support of hate-crime laws
- strong support of gun control
- strong support for teaching of evolution
- strong opposition to prayer in schools
- strong opposition even to the wearing of religious symbols on government property
Some might question just how mainstream those positions are. Would such a group, for instance, object to the use of churches to promote politicians who support such an agenda?
Currently, Mainstream has about 100 volunteers monitoring churches mostly in the Kansas City suburbs.
Americans United, meanwhile, filed another complaint this month with the IRS against the Rev. Jerry Falwell over a column endorsing President Bush on his ministries’ website. Falwell, who also writes a column for WND, said the group was waging a “scare-the-churches campaign.”