Atheist Group Calls for IRS Investigation into Tax Status of Church Hosting Evangelicals for Trump

White evangelical America made up one of the most important voting blocs behind Trump in 2016. Photograph: Evan Vucci/Associated Press

An atheist group has written a letter to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation into the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami, which is hosting Friday’s Evangelicals for Trump kickoff event.

“The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) on Tuesday demanded that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) take action and promptly investigate a Miami megachurch over a planned rally in support of President Donald Trump,” Law & Crime reported.

FFRF “said the Ministerio Internacional El Rey Jesús’s (King Jesus International Ministry’s) planned Jan. 3 rally violates the Johnson Amendment, which specifically prohibits tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, such as churches, from participating in political campaigns,” Law & Crime noted.

Breitbart News spoke with FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor on Thursday and questioned whether the atheist group applies different standards to churches that host Republican candidates, as opposed to Democrat candidates.

“I can assure you that we complained about many Democrats. We have an FAQ on our website about that,” Gaylor told Breitbart News on Thursday.

“I know we did something about Hillary Clinton in a press release,” she added.

Breitbart News reviewed the hundreds of press releases issued by the FFRF between 2015 and 2019 and found no mention of a complaint filed by FFRF against any church that hosted an event for Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democrat presidential nominee.

FFRF did issue a statement on September 13, 2016, “Presidential hopefuls pander to religion,” that criticized Hillary Clinton for “religious pandering.”

The two presidential candidates from the major parties are doing little to court the growing secular vote.

Hillary Clinton took to religious pandering on the campaign trail. She asserted to the 136th annual National Baptist Convention on September 8 that:

We need a president who understands the powerful role that faith — and communities of faith — have always played in moving our country toward justice . . . A president who will pray with you, and for you . . .. Yes, we need a president who will do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

FFRF disagrees. We’ve long said that we don’t need pious politicians who spend valuable time on their knees. We need politicians who will get off their knees and get to work. Prayer doesn’t fix anything, but it does waste time and energy. And it also lets pandering public officials congratulate themselves on accomplishing something, when they are really just talking to themselves. Prayer doesn’t heal the sick or rebuild cities after natural disasters. As Robert Ingersoll said, “The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.”

In that same statement, FFRF criticized Donald Trump’s September 2016 call for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which was passed in 1954 and named after its sponsor, then-Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson, who later served as president from 1963 to 1969.

The Johnson Amendment, FFRF said in its statement, “prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging in political campaigns.”

The law is a safeguard that prevents any 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which include churches, from participating in or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office if they wish to retain tax-exempt status. In short, the IRS prohibition against endorsing or opposing candidates for elected office applies equally to pastors and church officials.

The amendment absolutely does not silence the free speech rights of pastors. Ministers and congregations are free to engage in church electioneering — if they forego their tax-exempt privilege. Religious leaders are free to endorse whomever they choose — so long as they do so on their own time and dime as citizens (a right that many Religious Right leaders take full advantage of). They simply cannot do so from the pulpit as church officials, or expend church resources to electioneer.

FFRF Co-President Gaylor acknowledged that FFRF did not file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service when Democrat presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg attended and spoke last month at Sunday church services at William Barber’s church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, as Breitbart News reported:

Buttigieg attended the Sunday service and conversation in Goldsboro, North Carolina, which lasted two hours, as he continues to try to appeal to black voters. The mayor wore a suit jacket to the service and even brought his own Bible, a campaign staffer confirmed to the Associated Press. Barber is a partisan leftist who has repeatedly condemned President Donald Trump as racist.

“There is no question that the president of this country is racist,” Barber wrote in an article published last week at Medium.

During the conversation, Buttigieg argued that “systemic racism” and “racial voter suppression” were problematic to the concept of a united democracy in America.

“For my dime, I actually consider the electoral college itself to be an example of this problem because it affected anybody who had to live under a presidency that came about because the American people were overruled,” he added. “And we’re living under one right now, which means everybody is experiencing the consequences of that distortion in our democracy.”

When asked why FFRF has not filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Pastor Barber’s church, she told Breitbart News, “I don’t do intake.”

The FFRF website contains two different FAQ pages, one for FFRF FAQs and one for Church/State FAQs.

Breitbart News was unable to find any information about FFRF complaints filed with the Internal Revenue Service about churches hosting Democratic candidates on either FAQ page.

Other issues, however, that the FFRF considers important, such as prohibiting the use of churches for polling places, were highlighted on the FAQ pages.

“It is the Foundation’s position that churches should not be used for polling places,” the Church/State FAQ page states:

These days the Latin cross, the traditional symbol for Christianity, is increasingly seen by many as a symbol of political intimidation. In addition, many churches, especially in the most recent elections, have abused their tax-exempt status by intervening in political campaigns and have clearly signaled to their congregations and the general public who they favor in a given election. Furthermore, across the country there have been numerous cases of churches exploiting their position as polling sites to promote their churches or causes (i.e., handing out literature on the church, signing up voters to participate in bible studies, and posting anti-abortion signs near voting booths).

If you are forced to vote in a church, take notes or photographs, especially if you are forced to walk by signs, brochures or posters which would influence voters on issues such as gay rights or abortion. You have the right to vote in an auditorium or hall free of religious messages, crucifixes, etc. Document such violations when you complain to local officials. FFRF has taken complaints on election laws being violated when churches have handed out self-promotional “goodie bags,” allowed members of the congregation to hand out materials to voters waiting in line, or otherwise violated state (or local) election laws.

Despite the FFRF complaint to the Internal Revenue Service, The Evangelicals for Trump coalition kickoff event is still planned for Friday at the El Rey Jesus Church in Miami.


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