One of the pre-eminent advocacy law firms in the nation, the Alliance Defense Fund, is taking on the defense of a California pastor accused by the Internal Revenue Services of engaging in “political activities” in order to establish firmly the speech rights for pastors to address moral issues from their pulpits, even if those issues also fall within the political arena.
Erik Stanley, a lawyer with the ADF, told WND the complaint against Pastor Wiley Drake, of Buena Park First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., is straight-forward because Drake endorsed a presidential candidate as an individual, not as a representative of his church.
“I think that the IRS doesn’t really have anything to stand on,” he told WND. “He [Drake] personally endorsed Mike Huckabee and made it clear it was a personal endorsement. They are allowed to do that.”
The church had gotten a demand letter on Feb. 5 from Angie Chapman on letterhead of the Internal Revenue Service.
“Because a reasonable belief exists that the Church has engage in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church under section 501(a), this letter is notice of the beginning of a church tax inquiry described in IRC section 7611(a),” the letter said. “We are sending it because we believe it is necessary to resolve questions concerning your tax-exempt status as a church…”
“Our concerns are based on information we received concerning an Aug. 11, 2007, press release issued on the letterhead of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, California. The information we received provides … Pastor Wiley Drake endorsed Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, for the 2008 presidential election,” the letter said. The IRS said it also “received” information that Drake also had supported Huckabee on Drake’s radio program.
Churches, the letter said, “are prohibited from participating in, or intervening in (including the publication or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. This is an absolute prohibition, violation of which results in denial or revocation of exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”
It attached an exhaustive list of questions demanding information from the church about any press releases, their “specific content” and “specific purpose,” the names of those who prepared any communications, those who had authority over such communications, their official titles, how many congregants had access to such communications, what costs were involved, communications disseminated “in close proximity to” this dissemination, and other details.
It also demands information whether the pastor or any officer contributed to the Huckabee campaign in any way and access to the church’s policy “prohibiting political intervention.”
Stanley said the ADF will be responding to the IRS on Drake’s behalf, explaining that the endorsement was by Drake as an individual, and that he runs his own radio show where he talked about the endorsement, and the church isn’t affiliated with that show or in any way a sponsor.
“It was a personal thing he did,” Stanley said.
He said the complaint could be traced back to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which long has been critical of Drake’s outspoken Christian perspectives.
“If anybody has been Big-Brotherish it’s Americans United,” he said. “They got the press release. They were the ones listening to his show, taping it, and sending the tapes of his radio show to the IRS.”
He said the complaint was missing a number of key facts regarding the situation.
“I feel very confident the IRS is going to say he [Drake] has a right personally to endorse [a candidate], regardless of what Barry Lynn thinks,” Stanley said.
“What he doesn’t understand, or he’s just overlooking, not everything a pastor does is done on behalf of the church. Pastors are individuals just like other people. Americans United makes it sound like the church was turned into a political machine.”
But he said the larger picture is the fear many pastors have about speaking on moral issues that happen to be in the political arena, because of the intimidation factor from groups such as Americans United and the IRS.
“That’s the one thing we want to protect here, the rights of pastors to speak freely from their pulpits on issues,” he said. “That’s a Free Exercise issue, not even the IRS can change that.”
“So many pastors have been unnecessarily silent over the years. They’re afraid of losing their tax exemptions, so they give in to bullies like Americans United, the IRS, and their prohibition that ‘you cannot intervene in political campaigns.'”
“Churches get afraid,” he said. “We need to get the message out that pastors are free to talk, to preach about these moral issues, even if it means denouncing a particular candidate for supporting those issues.”
“They don’t need to be afraid to talk about these issues,” he said.
A pastor, he said, needs “to say things that he feels God is telling him to say.”
The AU complaint against Drake’s church had leveled the accusation of “electioneering.”
The notice he got from the IRS warned him about putting his Christian beliefs on the sign, and he responded that he would continue to preach the Word of God. Attorneys said the church has responded to the IRS demands, and has not had further contact yet.
In that case, Holick explained the signs all “are spiritual messages that communicate God’s truth or are directly related to messages in the Bible.” He also provided the IRS with a list of dozens of biblical instructions “to lift up Jesus, to rebuke sin, to save babies, to be honest, to take a righteous stand” and others.
With Wichita the home to the business of George Tiller, one of the world’s premiere late-term abortionists, many of Holick’s marquee slogans addressed abortion and those, including politicians, who support what the church believes is child-killing.
Those named included Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, an ardent abortion supporter.
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