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Texas pastor and Perry endorser Jeffress has violated tax laws, says Americans United

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State believes a controversial Texas pastor who posted videos of himself endorsing Gov. Rick Perry for president on his church’s website has violated federal tax laws.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/robert_jeffress_125.jpg Robert Jeffress

Pastor Robert Jeffress of the Dallas-based First Baptist Church made his endorsement known over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit, where he drew direct ire from some for saying his support for Perry was based upon the candidate’s Christianity and implying that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney isn’t a Christian due to his Mormon faith.

At issue for Americans United isn’t the personal endorsement, but the fact that Jeffress has used the church’s tax-exempt status to spread his message about Perry. The group has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate.

“Pastor Jeffress is trying to do an end-run around the law,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The IRS should put a stop to it.”

Jeffress has posted his introduction of Perry at the Summit, where he made the initial endorsement, and an interview appearances on MSNBC, where he reiterated his support. The website also contains a line of text: “The posting of video clips and media acounts of Dr. Robert Jeffress’ recent media appearances does not constitute First Baptist Dallas’ endorsement of any political candidate. As Dr. Jeffress has noted in multiple interviews, his political views and endorsements do not represent the church, but him personally.”

Americans United believes such language does not save the church from IRS scrutiny.

“In fact, the Internal Revenue Service has never said that disclaimers like this ameliorate candidate endorsements or make this permissable,” Lynn wrote to the agency.

Lynn pointed out that an IRS publication called “Election Year Activities and the Prohibition on Political Campaign Intervention for Section 501(c)(3) Organizations” warns churches and other nonprofits to be careful about what they post on their websites. The IRS states, “A web site is a form of communication. If an organization posts something on its web site that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, the organization will be treated the same as if it distributed printed material, oral statements or broadcasts that favored or opposed a candidate.”

This isn’t Jeffress’ first brush with this issue. In 1998, while serving as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas, Jeffress checked out two books with gay themes from the local public library and refused to return them. He then urged members of his congregation to vote against city council members if they refused to ban the books. A local newspaper reported that Jeffress challenged his congregation to “vote out the infidels who would deny God and his word.”

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