In what scholars believe to be the first case of the Internal Revenue Service revoking a church's tax-exempt status for partisan politicking, the IRS cracked down on a Binghamton, New York church after the church ran blatantly political advertisements in two national newspapers. The full-page ads urged Christians to vote against Bill Clinton for president.
The Church at Pierce Creek lost its tax-exempt status on January 19 of this year after the IRS conducted an investigation at the urging of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, noted that the ads went far beyond addressing religious and moral issues. Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has filed suit against the IRS in an attempt to rescind the tax agency's ban on church politicking.
"Pat Robertson and his lawyers clearly want to turn churches into gears in a political machine," said Lynn. "Robertson has spent the last decade luring churches into partisan politics, and this IRS action jeopardizes that misguided project."
Institute for First Amendment Studies general counsel Barbara Simon said that the ACLJ action is another attempt to erode the First Amendment's provision for a wall of separation between church and state. "If churches wish to engage in partisan politics," she said, "they should play by the rules."