Group tells IRS that Iowa churches are clearly violating the law by politicking

Tyler Kingkade

While a group tells the Internal Revenue Service an Iowa church is breaking the law in their political involvement, a pastor of the church said he prays the IRS “mercilessly attacks” his church so they can take battle to the Supreme Court.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling on the IRS to investigate Cornerstone World Outreach, based in Sioux City, for what it calls a clear violation of their tax exempt status by organizing a scheme called Project Jeremiah 2010, an effort to organize churches to encourage their members to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices.

The Cornerstone church is asking other church leaders to preach on three consecutive Sundays ahead of the election for their congregations to vote no on the retention vote of the justices. In a letter dated Sept. 3 and signed by the Rev. Cary K. Gordon of the church, he wrote about Adolf Hitler’s attempt to keep politics out of churches and provides examples of Biblical text to use in sermons.

The Cornerstone World Outreach with PeaceMakers Institute, Liberty Institute and the Iowa Family Policy Center, and is offering free legal protection by the Liberty Institute to any church that would join them.

Federal tax law forbids 501(c)3 organizations, such as churches, from intervening in elections in support of or opposition to any candidate. Rob Boston of the nonpartisan Americans United group, said any nonprofit organization is allowed to talk about issues, but not call for a vote for or against a candidate or judge.

“What some of these pastors are asking for, really, is they want all of the benefits that come with tax exemption but none of the regulations that come with; that’s just unrealistic,” Boston said. “Tax exemption is an incredible benefit. And it’s not surprising that the government chooses to put restrictions on it.”

Boston said one of the pastors who Gordon sent letters to contacted Americans United in concern.

“We’ve been looking at this issue for a long time and we are even-handed,” Boston said. “We do recognize this goes on in churches that lean to the left and churches that lean to the right.”

Last week, Americans United wrote the IRS to complain about a New York church which endorsed Democrat Andrew Cuomo. Although Gordon and his supporters criticize the group as a being liberal.

Gordon admitted Oct. 5 in a WHO-AM radio interview he’s often spoken about the retention of the Iowa justices during his sermons.

“We’ve been preaching our convictions, we’ll continue to preach our convictions, we don’t really, frankly, care what the federal government thinks about it,” Gordon said.

In an e-mail correspondence with the Iowa State Daily, Gordon claimed nearly 200 churches are joining his effort.

“Iowa’s activist judges are little more than a bellwether of a greater malevolence to come,” Gordon said to the Daily. “I will not sit back and allow such groups to use activist courts as their tool for unnatural social re-engineering.”

The justices face a retention vote on the November ballot and were part of a unanimous 2009 ruling declaring a ban on same-sex marriage against Iowa’s constitution. In Varnum v. Brien, the court overturned Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1998 by then governor and now current Republican nominee for governor, Terry Branstad.

“Gay activism, at home and abroad, continually demonstrates a zero tolerance policy with regard to religious liberties,” Gordon said. “Indeed, the radical gay agenda, an agenda that is considered disagreeable by many gays, is incompatible with religious freedom around the world.”

A new organization, Iowa For Freedom, led by Sioux City business-man and Republican politician Bob Vander Plaats, is campaigning to oust the justices. Vander Plaats defended the Cornerstone Church and Gordon’s in an interview on WHO-AM radio Tuesday, and went on to accuse the government of trying to control speech through the IRS.

“[Gordon] is a man of God who speaks the truth,” Vander Plaats said, adding that the federal government has the attitude, “‘We can control you with our tax exemption.’ They will try to control what they say from behind the pulpits as well.”

Vander Plaats also said he would likely continue to campaign against the rest of the justices when they come up for retention and suggested the next Iowa governor should change how they select justices, while also saying twice that Gov. Chet Culver “washed his hands like Pontius Pilate” when he refused to challenge the Iowa court decision.

He said he thought his effort, if successful, would give hope to people in Arizona and California “who are struggling with their own courts,” and said the actions by the Iowa Supreme Court could lead to them taking away property or Second Amendment rights.

In a blog post Oct. 3, Gordon suggested there is a strong probability the justices on Iowa’s Supreme Court do not believe in a God.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a more outrageous effort to politicize churches,” said Rev. Barry Lynn, Americans United executive director. “This deplorable scheme seeks to turn houses of worship into dens of inequity and intolerance.”

Gordon’s church also participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday in September, a national effort organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative group, aimed at convincing pastors to endorse political candidates from the pulpit in violation of the current tax code.

Boston said there has been an upswing in churches violating the law in this fashion. He said he is not sure, internally, how the IRS is handling Americans United’s request at this point, but said there are prior cases where churches have lost their tax exempt status, been fined or warned for violations.