IRS urged to strip megachurch's tax-exemption after Pastor Jack Hibbs endorses Steve Garvey

Pastor Jack Hibbs gives a sermon at Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, California, on Feb. 25, 2024.
Pastor Jack Hibbs gives a sermon at Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, California, on Feb. 25, 2024. | Screenshot:

An atheist group is calling on the Internal Revenue Service to remove the tax-exempt status of a prominent Cmegachurch after video footage surfaced of its pastor endorsing a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from the pulpit.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an advocacy group that supports a staunch separation between church and state, wrote a letter to the IRS Tuesday asking the government agency to revoke the tax-exempt status of the southern California-based Calvary Chapel Chino Hills.

The letter cited comments made by Calvary Chapel Chino Hills Pastor Jack Hibbs on Sunday as the justification for the demand.

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"I want to publicly right now, today, encourage all of you to vote for Steve Garvey," Hibbs told his congregation, voicing his support for the Republican former Dodgers star. "You got to vote for Steve Garvey."

"I just remembered it's against the law for me to say that in the pulpit," he added, stepping out in front of the pulpit. "As a public citizen, Steve Garvey is not only one of the greatest baseball players of all time. But we want Steve Garvey to represent us in the Senate. So, Steve Garvey is your only guy on the ballot." 

"So there, that was legal," he continued as he returned to the pulpit. "I just had to move from here to there."

Line characterized Hibbs' comments as a direct violation of the rules imposed on organizations with 501(c)(3) status, which include churches. The letter cited the Internal Revenue Code, which states that recipients of 501(c)(3) status cannot "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

"In this instance, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills has breached the responsibilities of its tax exempt status by openly endorsing a candidate for elected office," Line asserted. "We write to respectfully request that the IRS immediately investigate Calvary Chapel Chino Hills and ensure that it no longer receives the benefits of 501(c)(3) status and that donations made to the church are no longer treated as tax deductible."

Line accused Calvary Chapel Chino Hills of making "a mockery of their 501(c)(3) status by reaping all of the benefits of tax exemption while knowingly violating the statute by openly endorsing political candidates running for public office."

The Christian Post requested a comment from Hibbs via his assistant. A response was not immediately received. 

FRFF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement declaring that "the church is blatantly and gleefully flouting tax-exempt regulations," adding, "the IRS must sanction it at once."

The liberal outlet Right Wing Watch shared a clip of Hibbs' remarks on X. FFRF reposted the video accompanied by a statement describing Hibbs' endorsement of Garvey as "a clear violation of the law" and signaling an intention to reach out to the IRS. 

California voters will head to the polls next week to participate in a "top-two" primary that will decide which two of several declared candidates will appear on the ballot as candidates to fill the seat once held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in November's general election. The incumbent appointed to finish Feinstein's term following her death last year, Sen. Laphonza Butler, is not seeking a full term.

Garvey, a retired Major League Baseball player, is the most prominent Republican candidate in the race, but he may not make it to the general election as, under California law, the two candidates who receive the most votes in the "top-two" primary advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation.

Polls show Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., as the clear leader in the "top-two" primary, with some polls showing Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., in second place and others predicting Garvey will advance to the general election. 

A poll of 1,075 likely California voters conducted from Feb. 6-13 by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Schiff receiving 24% of the vote, followed by Porter at 19% and Garvey at 18%. A survey of 935 likely California voters conducted by Emerson College in conjunction with Inside California Politics and The Hill between Feb. 16 and 18 found Schiff capturing 28% of the vote to Garvey's 22% and Porter's 16%.

Should Garvey advance to the general election, he is expected to be an underdog against any Democrat in the deep blue state of California.

Hibbs is not the only pastor to weigh in on politics from the pulpit despite the concerns about violating 501(c)(3) status.

In 2022, as Republican Herschel Walker and Democrat Raphael Warnock were facing off for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia, Pastor Jamal Bryant of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the Atlanta area slammed Walker and encouraged his congregation to vote for Warnock from the pulpit. Bryant claimed that "white men" have been telling Walker what to do and that Georgia needs a "runner," not a "walker." 

"Georgia, I need you to know, the slave negro y’all are used to don’t live here no more," Bryant said. "We can think for ourselves, function for ourselves, and vote for ourselves! Why? Because we don’t need a Walker.”

Three years earlier, Bryant branded rapper Kanye West as a "sellout" in a sermon for endorsing his "orange friend," then-President Donald Trump. 

Hibbs previously drew the ire of Democratic members of Congress after he was invited by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to give an opening prayer on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as a guest chaplain on Jan. 30. Twenty-six Democratic lawmakers sent a letter criticizing Johnson for inviting a pastor they labeled a "Christian nationalist." The group also disliked Hibbs' remarks during his opening prayer. 

They took issue with Hibbs' use of the terms "holy fear," "repentance" and "national sins," describing them as "allusions to the militant and fanatical agenda he preaches about the LGBTQ+ community, Jews, Muslims, and anyone who conflicts with his 'biblical worldview.'"

During his sermon Sunday, Hibbs criticized the letter, saying, "I didn't know that I helped start the Jan. 6 riot." He said that he prayed a "Christian prayer," and "atheists" didn't like it. 

"I didn't know that I hate Muslims. Found out that I do. Did you know that I hate Jews? I didn't know that. Did you know that I hate LGBTQLMOP?" Hibbs asked the church. "I'm not fit to offer a prayer, it says in there. By the way, the atheist who wrote this said I'm not fit to offer a prayer. I'm going to frame this. This is for entertainment purposes."

"This is what's going to happen to me. I'm probably going to be investigated by the IRS. For the record, I owe no taxes, I paid all my taxes and I've never been late on my taxes. ... I want to get out ahead of the power of what these people have. The next thing is to be swatted. I was told by a congressman, 'Watch out. Don't be surprised if you are swatted.'"

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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