Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed formal complaints with the Internal Revenue Service December 10, accusing eight churches of engaging in partisan politics two days prior to the November election.
The complaints range from a Republican candidate speaking from the pulpit on the Sunday before the election to ushers distributing voter guides. The churches under question are Bayside Christian Fellowship, Green Bay, Wisconsin; Calvary Chapel, Santa Ana, California; Crossroads Cathedral, Oklahoma City; First Assembly of God, Worcester, Massachusetts; Lighthouse Baptist Church, Saint Maries, Idaho; MetroChurch, Edmond, Oklahoma; Sonrise Church, Hillsboro, Oregon; and Wheaton (Ill.) Evangelical Free Church.
The tax code states that nonprofit organizations cannot engage in partisan politics. More than 45 million Christian Coalition voter guides were distributed at 75,000 churches before the election (CT, Oct. 26, 1998, p. 82). Barry W. Lynn, AU executive director, calls the voter guides "an orchestrated, illegal, pro-Republican campaign effort."
Randy Tate, Christian Coalition executive director, told CT that Lynn is trying to intimidate pastors to keep them from speaking out on public issues. "The church has always played a role in setting the moral tone of the day," Tate says.
AU also has filed a complaint against New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore for holding a "Democratic party rally during Sunday services." On November 1, President Clinton endorsed Maryland governor Parris N. Glendening at the church.1