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Iowa pastor effort: If this isn't direct campaigning, it's certainly its common law spouse

by Jeremy Hooper

A brief overview of IRS guidelines concerning churches and the extent to which they can enter into campaigns:

Issue Advocacy vs. Political Campaign Intervention
Like other section 501(c)(3) organizations, some churches and religious organizations take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office . However, section 501(c)(3) organizations must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention . Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate . A statement can identify a candidate not only by stating the candidate’s name but also by other means such as show- ing a picture of the candidate, referring to political party affiliations, or other distinctive features of a candidate’s platform or biography.
All the facts and circumstances need to be considered to determine if the advocacy is political campaign intervention
Key factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include the following:
whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office;
whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates’ positions and/or actions;
whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election;
whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election;
whether the issue addressed in the communication has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office;
whether the communication is part of an ongoing series of communications by the organization on the same issue that are made independent of the timing of any election; and
whether the timing of the communication and identification of the candidate are related to a non-electoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office .
A communication is particularly at risk of political campaign intervention when it makes reference to candidates or voting in a specific upcoming election. Nevertheless, the communication must still be considered in context before arriving at any conclusions .
Voter Education, Voter Registration and Get-Out- the-Vote Drives
Section 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to conduct certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) if they are carried out in a non-partisan manner . In addition, section 501(c)(3) organizations may encourage people to participate in the electoral process through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, conducted in a non-partisan manner . On the other hand, voter education or registration activities conducted in a biased manner that favors (or opposes) one or more candidates is prohibited .
Like other IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations, some churches and religious organizations undertake voter education activities by distributing voter guides . Voter guides, generally, are distributed during an election campaign and provide information on how all candidates stand on various issues . These guides may be distributed

A careful review of the following facts and circumstances may help determine whether or not a church or religious organization’s publication or distribution of voter guides constitutes prohibited political campaign activity:
whether the candidates’ positions are compared to the organization’s position,
whether the guide includes a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought,
whether the description of issues is neutral,
whether all candidates for an office are included, and
whether the descriptions of candidates’ positions are either:
- the candidates’ own words in response to questions, or - a neutral, unbiased and complete compilation of all candidates’ positions .
The following are examples of situations where churches distribute voter guides
*SOURCE: Tax Guide For Churches and Religious Organizations [IRS.gov]

Okay, so basically, churches can inform about specific candidates, but not specifically advocate for or against the political figures. Which is pretty straightforward in most elections, where candidates for office spar with a defined opponent, and partisan lines are clearly spelled out.

But now consider Iowa, where the equality-hostile Iowa For Freedom coalition is waging the highly partisan, highly faith-motivated effort to oust three of the seven judges who unanimously determined the state's civil marriage laws to be discriminatory against same-gender couples. These judges are on the November ballot. The decision to retain them or not is 100% based around the issue of marriage equality for gay couples. The attempt to label these justices as "activist" because of this decision is an undeniably non-neutral position. Yet a coalition of Iowa pastors have launched a website and outreach effort that's solely designed to persuade voters to get rid of these judges, with direct advice on how to do exactly that:

(H/t: Joe.My.God)

Here are just some resources from the IowaPastors.com site. A flyer:

Screen Shot 2010-10-11 At 10.22.52 Am

Another video:

And in describing the judges, the site says this :

"Our judges, even more than the elected representatives, have changed the climate of our nation, especially in the area of religious freedom. Children can no longer read the Bible or pray in the name of Jesus because of judicial decisions. Marriage is no longer considered a sacred union between a man and a woman because of the opinions of several judges." [SOURCE]

This is not a simple educational of GOTV effort from Pastor Mullen and associates: This is pure, undeniable advocacy against these candidates for retention! There is a clear position that's designed to bias the process, using personal faith (or "values") against a matter of civil law. Which is even more egregious considering that this whole Iowa For Freedom campaign is built around the straw man idea that it's one co-equal branch of government that's working to usurp the role of faith.

Yet another example of our political opposition's definition of "religious freedom": An America where they have freedom to do anything they want in the name of God or "values" or "tradition" or "we-the-people-iness," and any person, group, branch of government, or tax law that says, "yo, wait a second!" is painted as a "militant." It's tired. It weakens us. It's taxing (to the wrong side).

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