Tax-Exempt Electioneering? AU Alerts IRS, after Obama Stance on Marriage Equality Sparks Partisan Sermons at Two Churches

Article excerpt

It definitely was not a typical Mother's Day sermon.

In a fiery May 13 address at Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., the Rev. Charles L. Worley insisted that God disapproves of homosexuality and called for gay people to be placed behind electrified fences in concentration camps and allowed to die out.

Worley also blasted President Barack Obama for his support of marriage equality for gay couples and reproductive rights.

"Of our president getting up and saying that it's all right for two women to marry or two men to marry," the pastor thundered, "I tell you right now I was disappointed bad. But I tell you right there that's as sorry as you get. The Bible's agin it, God's agin it, I'm agin it and if you've got any sense, you're agin it."

Shortly afterward, Worley added, "Somebody said, 'who you gonna vote for?' I ain't gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover. You said, 'did you mean that?' You better believe I did."

Worley's lengthy sermon received national media attention for its hateful attacks on the LGBT community, but it was also an apparent violation of federal tax law. On May 23, Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service.

AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn noted that federal tax law forbids churches and other 501(c)(3) nonprofits to intervene in elections.

"When the top official of a religious organization--the chief pastor of the church--issues an appeal to congregants from the pulpit during a worship service in the strongest possible terms to vote against a candidate, it is clearly intervention in an election," wrote Lynn.

In a media statement, Lynn observed, "Pastor Worley's vicious and mean-spirited assault on gays and lesbians is bad enough. His pulpit command that people not vote for President Obama is a violation of federal tax law. I urge the IRS to act swiftly to investigate this matter."

Worley's intemperate remarks and his partisan intervention were widely covered by television, radio, internet and print news outlets.

In an appearance May 22 on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360 [degrees]," Lynn said Worley's pulpit screed was clearly designed to goad congregants into voting against Obama.

"Look, unless you were asleep during the sermon--which has been known to happen, this went on for 90 minutes--you know unequivocally that you are not supposed to be voting for Barack Obama," said Lynn. "This means it's a clear violation of the tax code that says--again, without equivocation--you cannot oppose or endorse a candidate for public office and retain your tax-exempt status, whether you're a church or any kind of charity. This isn't even close, Anderson, to the line."

Lynn noted that this is the third IRS complaint that Americans United has filed in recent weeks. In April, AU provided the federal tax agency with information about a Roman Catholic diocese in Illinois whose bishop compared Obama to Hitler and Stalin and urged parishioners to "vote their Catholic consciences" in the November election.

On May 21, AU complained about a Hager Hill, Ky., church whose pastor urged congregants to vote against Obama for supporting marriage equality.

During a May 13 service, Pastor Ronnie Spriggs of Hager Hill Freewill Baptist Church, said, "You can say 'that's political' if you want to and blame me if you want to, but I heard our president say something this week that I never thought I'd ever hear a president of the United States say.

"Did y'all hear that?" Spriggs continued. "He said that he believes that gays ought to have the right to marry in the United States. That's the president of the United States who said that. Amen. I don't know about you folks, but I'm going on record, and I don't care who knows it. I want the guy out."

Asserting that "this country can't afford that kind of ideology in that office," Spriggs went on to exhort his congregation to get active between now and the November election. …