Question 1 opponents encourage frivolous attempts to revoke tax-exempt status; ADF standing ready with free legal assistance
(PORTLAND, MAINE) Opponents of Question 1, the Maine ballot initiative which vetoed the state legislature’s recognition of same-sex marriages, are encouraging their supporters to file IRS complaints against churches.
“The Diocese’s actions are a clear violation of the Internal Revenue Service’s ban on political campaign activity,” says A. Latham Staples, Executive Director for San Diego based Empowering Spirits Foundation (ESF).
“I’m a Christian and I value the institution of churches. They encourage hope, and allow individuals to join together in fellowship. But the IRS is clear that churches can only engage in the political process in an educational manner."
Earlier this year, Maine Diocese’s Public Affairs Director Mark Mutty announced plans for the church to gather 55,087 signatures needed for Question 1 to be put on the ballot. The effort succeeded. Mutty called the church’s action “one of the biggest grassroots movements in Maine history.”
According to a report by the Catholic News Agency, Scott Fish, Communications Director of Stand for Marriage Maine, the day after the vote that Catholic support was “very crucial” to the outcome. “The Yes on 1 campaign had much support from Catholics statewide, working hand-in-hand with Evangelical churches throughout Maine, as well as other denominations,” Fish said.
The Alliance Defense Fund is criticizing the call for IRS complaints and is offering free legal assistance to Maine churches that become targets.
“Pastors and churches have a right to speak about biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. They can encourage their congregations to take a stand for marriage and can directly support legislative issues like Question 1 without running afoul of IRS rules,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “Groups that want to redefine marriage are intentionally threatening the tax-exempt status of churches through fear, intimidation, and disinformation to silence their voice. ADF will stand with these churches to defend their right to free speech and religious expression against these baseless scare tactics.
“This is an all-too-obvious attempt to use the IRS to intimidate pastors and churches as a means of punishment and to get them to be quiet,” he said in a November 12 press release. “We encourage the churches of Maine not to be intimidated and to contact us if they are contacted by the IRS.”
The ESF believes the Diocese overstepped its boundaries. According to the IRS’s website, “an organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation," commented the ESF in a May 20 press release.
Said Staples, “Regardless of what actions the IRS may take, it is sad to me that a church based on principles of tolerance, acceptance, and love, chooses to take part in a measure that would alienate a part of society. This to me is un-Christian and un-American.”