In a letter of clarification requested by a traveling minister, the Internal Revenue Service has declared people gathered in tax-exempt churches can’t pray for President Bush to win the election on Tuesday.

The ruling comes in response to a request by the Christian Defense Coalition, which is in the midst of a 15-day prayer tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the organization, had planned to lead in prayer for a Bush victory during evening services in each town. Though he had hoped to hold the services in churches, Mahoney says he has used American Legion halls, hotels and other venues pending a clarification from the IRS.

The American Center for Law and Justice wrote the letter to the IRS on behalf of the Mahoney’s group, explaining that the pastor planned to “offer prayer during the evening services in the churches he visits that God grants President Bush four more years as president and that Senator Kerry does not become president.”

“This is rank censorship,” Mahoney told WND. “If churches felt compelled to pray for Senator Kerry, they should be able to do that, too.

“Now we have the IRS not only limiting what can be said behind a pulpit in terms of electioneering, but churches aren’t even allowed to pray the dictates of their consciences.”

Mahoney said he would consider legal action against the IRS, saying churches that had considered hosting the tour were unable to do so. He also said he considers his First Amendment rights to have been violated.

Reaction to the IRS ruling, Mahoney predicts, will include “massive anger” in the Christian community.

“Our organization, along with the American Center for Law and Justice, is going to make this a major issue,” he said.

Mahoney considers the ruling a “much greater leap into censorship” than the prohibition on endorsing candidates from church pulpits.

“You hear people talk about the separation of church and state,” he said. “This is a massive violation of the separation of church and state from the standpoint of the government intruding on the private dictates of churches.”

Under IRS regulations, churches that are tax-exempt organizations cannot openly advocate for candidates for office and can only use a small percentage of their budgets on political activity.

As WorldNetDaily reported, an concerted effort is under way to get the IRS to crack down on churches that might push certain candidates or parties. In July, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, headed by Barry Lynn, filed a complaint with the IRS against Ronnie Floyd, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springdale, Ark., accusing him of preaching a sermon promoting President Bush’s re-election July 4.

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