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« on: November 20, 2004, 11:36:00 PM »

Political Rallies in 'Swing State' Churches Focus of Inquiries

by Bill Fancher and Chad Groening
November 8, 2004

(AgapePress) - The election may be over -- but the trouble may just be starting for several churches that held political rallies for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

On October 13, the group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the worship service held three days earlier at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, Florida. According to Americans United, that service evolved into political rally that featured speeches by John Kerry, Al Sharpton, and other prominent Democrats. In addition, Pastor Gaston Smith introduced Kerry as "the next president of the United States." Barry Lynn of Americans United stated at that time that Smith's church had "run afoul of federal tax law" by hosting a partisan political rally.

Later in October, Americans United cited similar incidents at churches in Philadelphia and Cincinnati. In the latter case, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards spoke for eight minutes and then was followed to podium by the pastor, who stated: "I'm not worried about the law" -- and added in reference to Edwards: "I'm asking you to support him."

Robert Boston of Americans United says the investigation process has begun regarding the rallies in the churches. "We have asked the IRS to take action against four churches already that have sponsored rallies on behalf of John Kerry and/or John Edwards or the Democratic Party," Boston says.

"The IRS does state that a candidate can appear in a church -- the rules allow that," he explains. "But there isn't supposed to be any type of endorsement of that candidate either from the pastor or somebody else who might be speaking."

Boston says the four black churches being investigated were not the only entities that may have crossed the line. He says this election cycle was rather unique -- and fraught with problems. "The IRS is currently looking at 60 non-profit organizations for violating the no politicking rule -- and 20 of those are houses of worship," he says.

The Americans United staffer adds that he was stunned by some churches that supported the senator from Massachusetts. "One thing that's really ... sort of surprised me is the number of pastors who have stated up front that they're going to violate the law. I mean, that really is a remarkable thing," he says.

According to Boston, the IRS conducts its investigations in secret, so it could be some time before a decision is rendered on the tax-exempt status of the churches in question.

Lower Than Anticipated
While it may be a while before word is handed down regarding the rallies at those black churches, one conservative black leader is delivering his opinion now on the African American vote last week. He says it is apparent that most black voters did not consider moral issues to be their most important consideration when they went to the polls.

Jesse Lee Peterson is founder and president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, or BOND. He says he had hoped that President Bush would have done much better among black voters in his re-election bid. But as it turned out, Bush received 11 percent of the black vote -- only two points higher than he received four years ago.

"I had read a poll that said [President Bush] was going to get 18 percent," Peterson observes. "It didn't go up that much at all, that's for sure."

Peterson maintains that most black voters are still believing liberal leaders like Jesse Jackson, who he says stated "several times that the same-sex marriage issue is not an issue for black people, [and] that's not [one of] the black peoples' issues." The BOND president says "so many blacks believed that and they didn't go with the moral issue -- and that's what the primary problem is."

Peterson says most black voters continued to believe "many of the black preachers and the so-called civil rights leaders" that economic issues like free health care were more important -- and that that is why they still voted overwhelmingly Democratic. "They got black Americans to focus on that rather than focusing on the moral issues," he says.

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