More evidence has come to light that the Internal Revenue Service is cracking down on religious ministries that violate federal law by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
The St. Petersburg Times reports today that Bill Keller, who runs a TV and Internet ministry in that city, has been contacted by the IRS and asked to supply information about his political activities.
Some of you might recall that Americans United reported Keller to the IRS on May 31, 2007, after we were alerted to a “Daily Devotional” that appeared on Keller’s Web site, www.liveprayer.com. The May 11 devotional was titled, “If You Vote for Mitt Romney You are Voting for Satan.”
What followed was a two-and-half page screed attacking Romney, who at the time was seeking the Republican nomination for the presidency. Choice lines included:
* “If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for satan! This message today is not about Mitt Romney. Romney is an unashamed and proud member of the Mormon cult founded by a murdering polygamist pedophile named Joseph Smith nearly 200 years ago.”
* “If Romney gets elected as the next President of the United States, the Mormon cult will finally have the mainstream acceptance they have been striving for these past 200 years. Romney winning the White House will lead millions of people into the Mormon cult.”
* “ROMNEY GETTING ELECTED PRESIDENT WILL ULTIMATELY LEAD MILLIONS OF SOULS TO THE ETERNAL FLAMES OF HELL!!!”
* “Having Romney as President is no different than having a Muslim or Scientologist as President. Please, don’t tell me that Mitt Romney is the best option. I’ll stay home and not vote before I will vote for satan, since if you vote for Romney you are voting for satan!”
Gee, it sure sounds like Keller didn’t want people to vote for Romney, huh? His rant is about as subtle as a stick in your eye. Apparently, the IRS agrees. The Times reports that Keller showed the newspaper several letters he had received from the tax agency, requesting information.
Amazingly, Keller insists he was not intervening in the election. He says he was simply educating voters about the candidate’s religious beliefs.
Keller’s attorney, David Gibbs, also insists Keller has done nothing wrong. “I don’t see political involvement,” Gibbs said. “I see someone who is aggressively speaking in the religious educational realm.”
Some P.R. spin simply goes too far. Are we seriously supposed to believe that advising someone that if they vote for Romney they’re really voting for Satan isn’t political at all?
Of course the Alliance Defense Fund had to pop off. Erik Stanley, a senior attorney at the Religious Right legal group, told the Times, “If the IRS does respond, obviously the issue will go to court. And, for the first time, the federal court will be able to judge the constitutionality of this restriction.”
Spare us the bluster. Stanley knows full well federal courts have already weighed in on this issue – and his side lost. In 1992, Americans United reported the Church at Pierce Creek, a congregation near Binghamton, N.Y., that placed a full-page ad in USA Today advising people that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin.
The IRS pulled the church’s tax exemption. The church enlisted the help of TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice to get it back. They lost.
Keller says he’s tired of the investigation and wants the IRS to make a decision concerning his fate. I agree – and that decision should be a no-brainer. Keller clearly violated the law and deserves to lose his tax-exempt status.