Watchdog Group Says Baptist Pastor’s Pulpit Endorsement Violates Federal Tax Law
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service about a Rapid City, S.D., church whose pastor endorsed a gubernatorial candidate during a church service.
The Rev. H. Wayne Williams, pastor of Liberty Baptist Tabernacle, endorsed state Sen. Gordon Howie, who was seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Williams’ May 16 endorsement from the pulpit was reported in a press release by the Howie campaign and in the Rapid City Journal.
“This church is tax exempt and may not intervene in elections,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “
In a letter to the IRS today, Lynn outlined the case against Liberty Baptist. He noted that Howie’s campaign issued a press release on May 18 trumpeting the endorsement. In that press release, Williams stated, “I have no fear of the I.R.S.”
The Williams endorsement was also reported by the Journal on May 23.
In addition, an Americans United staff member called Williams to discuss the matter on June 8. During that conversation, Williams confirmed his in-church endorsement and asserted that his church is not accountable to the IRS.
Lynn said such flagrant disobedience of the law should not be ignored.
“Pastor Williams is thumbing his nose at the Internal Revenue Service,” said Lynn. “The facts are not in dispute, and the IRS should take action.”
Americans United runs a special program called Project Fair Play. The project aims to educate clergy and citizens about the requirements of federal law and the ban on politicking by tax-exempt entities.
As part of the project, Americans United files complaints to the IRS about houses of worship and religious non-profits that flout the law.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.