As most readers probably know, the Johnson Amendment prohibits non-profit groups from endorsing candidates for political office. They can push for issues or create “scorecards” for candidates on the topics that matter to them, but groups like Planned Parenthood and the NRA can’t explicitly tell members how to vote. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.
It’s not a hard rule to follow. But a lot of right-wing preachers have acted like this is some kind of infringement on their freedom of speech. It’s not. They’re absolutely allowed to tell their church members how to vote; they just have to give up their tax breaks in the process.
The problem is that the IRS has done a pathetic job of enforcing its own rules. Even when pastors send the IRS videos of their endorsements, it doesn’t do anything. According to the Washington Post, “more than 2,000 mainly evangelical Christian clergy have deliberately violated the law since 2008 as a form of protest against it; only one has been audited by the IRS, and none punished…”
Still, when a pastor plays politics, it’s worth bringing to the public’s attention because the only way the IRS will ever take action is with public pressure.
Which brings us to Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Church in Rocklin, California. He’s a COVID denier who spent the past year blaming church closures on “liberal crazies and Satan” instead of the virus. Multiple churchgoers allegedly tested positive for COVID. He celebrated that outbreak by saying “the favor of God is on this house!”
Over the weekend, Fairrington told his church members they had an obligation to vote against Gov. Gavin Newsom in the upcoming recall election:
During a sermon yesterday, California pastor Greg Fairrington said to his congregation, "You're afraid of Gavin Newsom? My God! Do your job as Christians on September 14th and vote yes on recalling an immoral governor!" cc: @FFRF #SeperationOfChurchAndState pic.twitter.com/TVL4o1XzCg
— Christian Nightmares (@ChristnNitemare) August 2, 2021
You’re afraid of Gavin Newsom? My God! Do your job as Christians on September 14th and vote yes on recalling an immoral governor! Do your job! Pastors, do your job! Use your voice! Use your influence!
It’s like Jesus said, the only path to salvation involves accepting Him in your heart and voting to recall Democratic governors…
There is absolutely no reason this church should be allowed to keep its tax-exempt status. If Fairrington wants to play politics like this, he needs to pay up, just like every other explicitly political group. If the IRS cared about its own rules, they would take action immediately, because a Johnson Amendment violation doesn’t get any more clear than this.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the IRS in 2017 after Donald Trump insisted the rule no longer applied to churches. But FFRF voluntarily dismissed its own lawsuit after being told the IRS still took the rule seriously.
Well, what’s the IRS going to do now?