Churches and religious organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
The above is from the Internal Revenue Service’s Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations. Pretty straight-forward. So how does that jibe with this, courtesy of El Paso’s St. Raphael Catholic Church bulletin:
I am asking all of you to go to the polls and be united in replacing our present president with a president that will respect the Catholic Church in this country
Short answer: It doesn’t. It so, so doesn’t. And now Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the IRS for an investigation of St. Raphael.
This is just one example of a church rallying its members to vote for — or against — a political candidate and endangering its tax-exempt status in the process. El Paso has been embroiled in another similar controversy that arose after the city council voted to give health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees. In that case, Pastor Tom Brown allegedly used church resources in an unsuccessful recall of the mayor and two city councilors.
But some churches actually invite a fight with the IRS. Pastor Jim Garlow, one of the organizers of Gov. Rick Perry’s pre-presidential candidacy prayer rally in Houston, encourages pastors to get political from the pulpit. Each year, on what Garlow calls Pulpit Freedom Sunday, pastors are called on to break IRS rules in hopes of triggering court fight on religious freedom court grounds.
In the latest El Paso case, the deacon of the Catholic Diocese of El Paso acknowledges the item in St. Raphael’s bulletin was inappropriate.
It’s unclear if anything else will come of this. As noted by Reuters, the IRS for its part has been largely silent on these issues.