- (Photo: A. Larry Ross Communications)
A secular group has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, alleging that the ministry's activity during the election season violates its tax exempt status.
Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based organization, argued in its filed report that BGEA's "vote biblical values" ad campaign violated the IRS' rules on religious groups and political campaigning.
"BGEA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has run full-page ads publicizing Billy Graham's call for the electorate to 'vote biblical values,'" said FFRF in a statement last week. "The ads have appeared in several 'swing state' newspapers in preparation for tomorrow's heated presidential election. Throughout the month of October, BGEA published articles favorable to Romney, which included a statement by Billy Graham."
Brent Rinehart of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association provided The Christian Post with an official statement regarding the "Biblical Values" ad campaign.
"The ads intentionally do not mention any candidate, political party, or contest, urging instead for readers to cast votes for candidates-at all levels-based on their support for biblical values," reads the statement in part.
Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told The Christian Post that he believes FFRF had a good case against the BGEA.
"I believe a strong case can be made that the Graham ministry violated federal law. IRS guidelines allow churches and ministries to engage in issue advocacy, they warn against tying such advocacy to a candidate," said Boston.
"IRS rules make it clear that a church or ministry can endorse a candidate even without mentioning his or her name."
Boston also told CP that while every election year has its share of complaints over "church politicking," complaints for the 2012 election season "skyrocketed."
"I have been monitoring this issue for Americans United since 1996, and I've never seen a year like this one before. Complaints are way up," said Boston. "Even allowing for duplications of reports, the number of incidents of church politicking has really skyrocketed this year."
Boston attributed this sizable uptick in complaints to the mobilization efforts of groups like Family Research Council and the American Family Association, as well as increased activities on the part of Catholic clergy.
For its part, Americans United has filed a complaint against Church in the Valley in Leakey, Texas, which had a controversial marquee sign message that read "Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The capitalist, not the communist!"
According to Boston, his organization filed the complaint in October and at present he has not heard anything new, but that is likely due to the "strict confidentiality rules" of IRS investigations.
While some organizations hope to have the IRS punish those who may have violated their rules on church politicking, other groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have denounced them.
In the month before the election, the ADF had its nationwide annual event "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," wherein hundreds of clergy spoke from the pulpit about political issues, in an apparent violation of IRS rules.
While participants often record their sermons and send them to the IRS, the government organization rarely takes action in response.
During the 2012 election season, both Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham spoke positively of Republican challenger Mitt Romney and critically of President Barack Obama.