Pastor Ray Miller of Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas, likely didn’t realize the national attention his church would get when he posted a controversial message about President Barack Obama. This month, Miller, known for placing wacky signs outside of the house of worship, posted the following proclamation: “VOTE FOR THE MORMON, NOT THE MUSLIM! THE CAPITALIST, NOT THE COMMUNIST!”
After the story about the marquee was reported in local — then national — media, a church-state separatist group issued a letter to the Internal Revenue Service, demanding that Miller and his church be investigated for violating tax code. But before we get into the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) complaint, let’s further explore the political sign.
According to KHOU-TV, the message outside Church in the Valley is the talk of the town. While the small-town preacher has been declining interviews about the signage, he did say that the message was his idea, exclusively. Admitting that the anti-Obama sentiment was intentional, Miller also said that he has strong feelings about the 2012 election.
While the preacher maintains that the sign speaks for itself — it may also end up causing him some unwanted legal grief. After all, churches are 501(c)(3) organizations. As tax-exempt entities registered by the IRS, they are not legally permitted to endorse candidates. By asking those observing the sign to “vote for the Mormon” and to avoid supporting “the communist,” some are charging that the church illegally endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
The issue isn’t going away either, as AU petitioned the IRS today to investigate the church, with the organization claiming in a press release received by TheBlaze that Miller “violated federal tax law and should suffer the consequences.” The organization’s executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, said that he hopes to see the IRS crack down on the house of worship’s “over-the-top law-breaking.”
“Millions of Americans are aware that this church has openly violated the law, and many of them are asking what the IRS intends to do about it,” Lynn wrote in a letter delivered to the IRS today. “Failure to act will only spur more houses of worship to ignore the law. I urge you to investigate this matter and apply the laws of the land.”
Despite this call for the government to intervene, there may be a snag in Lynn’s plan. As TheBlaze reported on Monday, the government has suspended church audits until new regulations are adopted. While it’s possible that the AU request will be backlogged, it’s unlikely that an investigation will happen in the short-term.