Responding to a growing Religious Right drive to politicize houses of worship, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has unveiled a new Web site that addresses the issue of church-based politicking.
The site, projectfairplay.org, updates and expands a number of materials Americans United has collected to educate members of the clergy and interested citizens about federal tax law provisions that prohibit all 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates.
Included on the site are FAQs dealing with what’s legal and what’s not, a sample letter to clergy, an array of informational documents and links to pertinent material at the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site.
Americans United has sponsored Project Fair Play since 1996. The project is designed to educate clergy and counter Religious Right efforts to promote pulpit politicking. In cases where houses of worship violate the law, AU files complaints with the IRS. (Visitors can use the site to report legal infractions to AU.)
In the past 12 years, Americans United has filed 85 complaints with the IRS over inappropriate politicking by religious organizations. (The full list is available on the site.)
Most recently, AU asked the IRS to investigate Atlah World Missionary Church in New York City, whose pastor delivered a series of sermons attacking Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
During the sermons, which were posted on You Tube, Pastor James David Manning blasted Obama in harsh language.
During one, Manning said, “I plead with all Americans and the world far and wide do not give the White House to that half Negro Barack Hussein Obama. America, don’t turn this great nation over to the Negroes. They’re not ready yet.”
On another occasion, Manning said, “I want to say to you, black America, that Barack Hussein Obama is not the one. God has not sent him. He is a diversion from the truth.”
During other sermons, Manning referred to Obama as “trash,” and called him “a long-legged mack daddy,” slang for someone who provides prostitutes.
Americans United urged the IRS to take action against Manning’s church. In an Aug. 15 letter to the IRS, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wrote, “Manning’s sermons and messages are replete with often crude attacks on Obama and calls for intervention to stop his campaign. I believe these comments in no way fall under the type of political comment permitted by tax-exempt entities. They are clearly designed to persuade people not to vote for Obama. Manning has crossed the line, and his church should be investigated.”
Manning’s church-based electioneering was the subject of a New York Times story in August. Lynn was quoted in the piece, but Manning refused to talk to the newspaper.