Local churches and those across the country that distribute voters guides created by a Colorado Springs firm may lose their tax-exempt status, according to a complaint filed today by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C.
According to the press release:
The project, affiliated with Persuade the World Ministries, has put out voter guides for all 50 states, rating politicians as "Anti-Jesus" or "faith friendly." Surprisingly, politicians involved in sex scandals, such as Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) and David Vitter (R-LA) are rated as 100% "faith friendly."
"Federal law prohibits preachers from politicking from the pulpit, but that is exactly what Pray in Jesus Name Project is asking clergy across the country to do," said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan. "Pray in Jesus Name is attempting to use churches to advance its overt political agenda; any churches that go along with this plan and distribute the guides will risk their own tax status in the process."
Pray in Jesus Name Project is funded by private for-profit companies, its leader, Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, says in an interview, and he insists he has done nothing wrong. Nor have the churches who distribute such information.
"I think any time the IRS is called upon to investigate churches, probably the states are crossing the line," he says. "When the government comes into our churches and says Christians aren't allowed to vote, Christians have no freedom of the press, Christians have no information about how candidates voted, then they are violating the First Amendment of the Constitution."
"Churches have freedom of the press, speech and association, and we're fully authorized to assemble," he added.
Klingenschmitt also asserted that the voter guides are nonpartisan, but CREW noted that:
The site features a picture of Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and states: "How much would you pay to see the ‘shock and awe' look on the faces of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi this fall?"
But Klingenschmitt says the voter guides merely report how Reid and Pelosi and "most Democrats voted on abortion and homosexuality. If the incumbents are afraid to have their voting record published in the churches, maybe they should have voted differently."
He says churches are circulating the voters guides locally, but he didn't know which ones. That's because he only provides them via fax to pastors, and he doesn't know which ones actually circulate them and which ones choose not to.
In case his name rings a bell, Klingenschmitt is being sued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's Mikey Weinstein, who alleges the former Navy chaplain made public prayers seeking physical harm and financial ruin of Weinstein and his family.
Klingenschmitt said today that Weinstein's allegations are false and the lawsuit ultimately will be dismissed.