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A blatantly electioneering Houston church needs to have its tax-exempt privileges taken away, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is insisting to the IRS.
On Aug. 28, Pastor Ed Young of Second Baptist Church encouraged his congregation to vote out Houston and Harris County’s “left-wing progressive” elected officials. He told congregants that “delayed justice,” including bail bonds, is to blame for the rising crime rates and is what occurs when “you put left-wing progressives in office.” He continued: “In all probability, Houston is one of the two of three most dangerous cities in the world to live in. … Ladies and gentlemen, if Houston and Harris County is to survive, we better throw those bums out of office.” These statements encouraging congregants to vote out Democrats occurred just two months before the upcoming elections.
“IRS regulations specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited from ‘[participating in or intervening in] . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office,’” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to the IRS. “Pastor Young flagrantly disregarded the law by encouraging his congregation to vote out Democratic ‘left-wing progressives.’”
By intervening in the upcoming elections in opposition to Democratic candidates, Young and the Second Baptist Church have made it clear that the church would rather engage in partisan politics than receive the benefits of tax-exempt status, FFRF emphasizes. Hence, FFRF requests that the Second Baptist Church no longer receive the benefits of 501(c)(3) status and that donations made to the church are no longer treated as tax deductible.
The pastor’s controversial sermon has been reported around the nation, with many censuring the partisan nature of his remarks, but others, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, praising him. Young also got into hot water three years ago for political remarks, when, at an election day event for then-Rep. John Culberson, he remarked about the Democratic Party, “It’s some kind of religion that is basically godless.” Young has served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is under federal investigation regarding sexual abuse.
“Such flagrantly partisan behavior on the part of a tax-exempt institution is inexcusable,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The IRS must take action at once.” Gaylor added that it is “heartening” to see widespread understanding that it is not just illegal but unethical for churches and 501(c)(3) entities to misuse their tax-exempt support for political purposes.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 38,000 members and several chapters across the country, including 1,600 members and a local chapter in Texas. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.