It's been a rough few weeks for Pastor Robert Jeffress, who caught major heat after he said that GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney is in a cult, because he is a Mormon (he subsequently defended this inflammatory statement).
Now, Jeffress is in for a new challenge, as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) is asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate him.
The group sent a letter to the IRS encouraging the federal government to investigate whether Jeffress and his house of worship, Dallas-based First Baptist Church, violated federal law by posting a video clip of his Rick Perry endorsement on the church's web site. According to DallasNews.com:
First Baptist Church in Dallas has a clip of Jeffress' appearance on the MSNBC show Hardball with Chris Matthews...Federal law allows pastors to personally endorse political candidates but the church itself can't be involved in supporting any particular candidate for office.
The clip, which is posted on Jeffress' YouTube Page, is prefaced on First Baptist Church's web site with the following words:
On MSNBC's popular program, "Hardball," Dr. Jeffress spoke with host Chris Matthews about personally endorsing Rick Perry, why we should prefer Mitt Romney to Barack Obama, and his recent comments regarding Mormonism.
Another video that covers political subject matter is also present on the church's site. The description that introduces this video reads, "Watch Dr. Jeffress speak about his personal convictions regarding the 2012 presidential election":
It seems Jeffress has given the AUSCS ammunition to target an evangelical church that dares to challenge current IRS regulations. The timing of this drama is intriguing.
As we previously reported, on October 2, pastors from around the country came together for "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," an event during which they preached sermons that examined political candidates’ stances on important issues of the day (a purposeful violation of the IRS's Johnson Amendment).
Rather than going after these faith leaders, the AUSCS (the group's communication director referred to the event as "Pulpit Perversion Sunday") now has a more specific target in Jeffress. While it is not confirmed that this is, indeed, the reasoning behind the organization's angst, the close timeliness of the complaint to "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," does raise suspicions.
Following the emergence of the MSNBC video on the church's site, AUSCS sent a letter to the IRS asking the federal agency to look into the potential violation. A press release on the group's web site reads:
Americans United says Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church has run afoul of federal tax law. AU notes that Jeffress has the right to offer a personal endorsement of Perry but that he may not put these endorsements on his tax-exempt church’s website.
"Pastor Jeffress is trying to do an end-run around the law," explained Barry Lynn, who serves as the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "The IRS should put a stop to it."
(H/T: Dallas News)