Christian churches in Maine whose leaders encouraged support for a referendum that repealed a law allowing same-sex marriage are being targeted in an intimidation campaign urging homosexuals to file complaints against them with the Internal Revenue Service.
A “Maine Marriage Equality” website that lobbied for the same-sex marriage measure is asking its followers to file the complaints.
You are probably already aware of churches that supported and actively promoted a ‘YES’ vote on Question 1. Please take the time to file an IRS complaint against them. Examples of supporting documentation to include with your complaint are pamphlets or other material created and/or distributed by the church or religious organization, photographs that show attempts to influence legislation (see below), witness statements or recordings of individuals who were aware of the campaign activities, and any other evidence that may prove a church or religious organization attempted to influence the public to vote ‘YES’ on Question 1.
With your help, we can reaffirm our Constitutional Separation of Church and State and ensure that in the future, nobody’s civil rights are stripped away by religious fanatics attempting to force their religion on all of us.
The campaign was launched after a decision by Maine voters, by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin, to restore the definition of marriage to only one man and one woman. State lawmakers had expanded it to include same-sex duos, but voters made Maine the 31st state out of 31 to limit marriage to one man and one woman.
A defense for any churches or church leaders targeted by the complaints, however, already is being assembled.
Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, said pastors and churches have a right to discuss biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of being punished for their religious beliefs.
“They can encourage their congregations to take a stand for marriage and can directly support legislative issues like Question 1 without running afoul of IRS rules,” Stanley said. “Groups that want to redefine marriage are intentionally threatening the tax-exempt status of churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation to silence their voice.
“ADF will stand with these churches to defend their right to free speech and religious expression against these baseless scare tactics,” he said.
Question 1 was the referendum on the Maine ballot Nov. 3 that allowed voters to decide on the state’s law that created “same-sex marriage” earlier this year. ADF said since the vote, supporters of homosexual unions “have been encouraging retaliation through the filing of IRS complaints against churches that indicated they supported a yes vote on Question 1.”
“This is an all-too-obvious attempt to use the IRS to intimidate pastors and churches as a means of punishment and to get them to be quiet,” said Stanley. “We encourage the churches of Maine not to be intimidated and to contact us if they are contacted by the IRS.”
The homosexual activists are telling supporters IRS policy allows the withdrawal of church-status recognition if “a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).”
An editorial published by the Advocate blamed the churches for the vote.
“No, it’s not the fault of homophobes or those religious zealots frightened by their churches. It’s the churches themselves and the cowardly government that fails to tell all religious institutions to get out of politics or be taxed,” wrote Charles Bouley.
Banning religious groups from politics, however, violates the U.S. Constitution, according to Stanley, who also coordinates the ADF’s Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort to challenge IRS regulations imposing restrictions on pastors’ speech.
This year, 83 pastors in 30 states and the District of Columbia participated in the second annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, more than twice the number who participated last year in the project.
Stanley explained forcing politics into the pulpit is not the goal of ADF. He said the intent is for churches to be free to preach how Scripture applies to every area of life, including candidates and elections, if they so choose.
“The IRS shouldn’t be making this decision for churches by threatening to revoke their tax-exempt status. To truly protect religious freedom, the government needs to get out of the pulpit,” he said.
The censorship for church pastors has been in place since the Johnson Amendment was added to the federal tax code in 1954. However, enforcement has been spotty, and the results have been vague, even though critics of Christian churches contend it limits what they can say from the pulpit.
The IRS has repeatedly launched investigations of churches based on allegations from organizations such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, whose officials have taken advantage of the vagueness to report church “offenses.”
Stanley explained that, contrary to the misunderstanding of many, tax-exempt status is not a “gift” or “subsidy” from the government.
“Churches were completely free to preach about candidates from the day that the Constitution was ratified in 1788 until 1954,” explained Stanley. “The real effect of the Johnson Amendment is that pastors are muzzled for fear of investigation by the IRS. Rather than risk confrontation, many pastors have self-censored their speech, afraid to be critical of blatant immorality in government and foregoing opportunities to praise moral government leaders. The participants in Pulpit Freedom Sunday refuse to be intimidated into sacrificing their First Amendment rights.”
WND reported when the IRS closed an investigation into a Minnesota pastor’s sermons from just before the 2008 election that addressed the moral qualifications of the political candidates.
ADF said Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn., had preached on moral issues as a part of the ADF’s Pulpit Initiative last year.
“Booth originally sent the IRS a copy of a sermon he preached in May 2008 with regard to the primary elections. After participating in the Pulpit Initiative’s Pulpit Freedom Sunday Sept. 28, Booth also sent the agency his sermon regarding the general election. After launching an audit of the church in August 2008, the IRS has now stated in a letter that it is closing its examination of the sermons due to a procedural problem,” ADF said.
Stanley said it was an example of the IRS applying pressure to churches but refusing to let a case come to court where a ruling could be made.
“Instead of standing and fighting in court, the IRS prefers to run the other way,” said Stanley. “ADF would likely have waived any complaint about procedural concerns involved in the investigation stage of the audit in order to reach the merits of the case and clarify the law. Once a federal court has an opportunity to review the Johnson Amendment, we believe it will not take long for the court to strike it down as unconstitutional. Pastors have the right to preach from their pulpits on all issues, including candidates and elections. No pastor should fear the IRS.”