June 9, 2009
AU Files Political Activities Complaint Against Richmond Church
Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced that it has sent a letter with the IRS regarding the appearance of Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran at the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Richmond. AU based its letter on a Washington Post story about the appearance. In that story, the church's pastor, Rev. F. Todd Gray, is reported as having stated ""Brian is right on guns, he's right on affirmative action, he's right on taxes, he's right on jobs. I'm not telling you who to vote for, I'm just telling you who I'm voting for. I'm voting for Brian Moran." As those familiar with the Code section 501(c)(3) ban on charities supporting or opposing candidates know, simply stating "I'm not telling you who to vote for" is not enough to prevent a violation of that ban if other facts and circumstances clearly indicate support of a candidate. The timing of the appearance, only two days before the Democratic primary in which Moran is a candidate, is also highlighted in the AU letter. What the IRS will do with the complaint is and may always be unknown, however, unless either the church chooses to publicize any IRS actions (as happened with the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena) or the IRS ultimately chooses to revoke the church's tax-exempt status.
Interestingly, the same Washington Post article also reports that rival Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe spent Sunday in church as well. While the posting about McAuliffe's visit to the Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church in Norfolk did not include any quotes from that church's pastor, a postingon the Washington Post's Virginia Politics blog notes that McAuliffe's reported statements including telling the congregation he had been endorsed by every African-American newspaper in the state that makes endorsements, thereby highlighting his candidacy in the election being held two days later. It is not clear form the post whether the other Democratic candidates, including Moran, had been given a similar opportunity to speak to the congregation, which might render McAuliffe's appearance less of a legal concern.
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