A Baptist church in Idaho is pushing back against criticism after being accused by an atheist group of “breaking the law” by hosting a GOP rally.
The Idaho Republican Party held its “Keep Idaho Red” rally at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Coeur d’Alene on Monday, drawing what the GOP described as a “packed house.”
The event featured Idaho GOP chairwoman Dorothy Moon, along with statewide and federal candidates, as part of what the Idaho GOP called a “fun, family-friendly rally” to offer “folks the opportunity to hear from our entire slate of candidates — from the top of the ticket to your local officials — all in one place.”
An Oct. 17 tweet from Idaho GOP reads: “Packed house tonite [sic] at our #KeepIdahoRed Rally in CDA. Thank you First Baptist Church for opening your doors, to our GOP candidates for being there to speak, to voters for attending & most importantly thank you to our hardworking volunteers who made it happen! #WeAreIdaho #idgop”
The following day, the organization American Atheists accused FBC of “breaking the law” by hosting the event. The law in question is the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 measure named after then-Senator Lyndon Johnson that prohibits nonprofits from maintaining a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status if they engage in partisan political activism.
The group tweeted: “The First Baptist Church in Coeur d’Alene is breaking the law! Report them to the IRS.” The group included a link to a page on the IRS website titled “How Do You Report Suspected Tax Fraud Activity?”
American Atheists President Nick Fish took it a step further and suggested the Idaho GOP is “just openly bragging about breaking the law now.”
Under the U.S. tax code, churches and other tax-exempt organizations are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for elective public office.”
The tax code also states that churches can hold “certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner.”
A spokesperson for FBC Coeur d’Alene told The Christian Post that the church “did not endorse any specific candidate” during the rally and that the Idaho GOP was allowed to use the facility only after the group “accepted First Baptist Church (FBC) Mission Statement and Bi-laws, and agreed to open the event with prayer, and to remain respectful during the event.”
According to the spokesperson, FBC allows the use of its facility to groups that agree with the church’s mission statement and bylaws and “agree to promote respectful and Christian behavior and beliefs through any use of the facilities. “
All events at FBC are also expected to be opened in prayer.
“American Atheists and other organizations and groups might be included in the use of our facilities if they meet these conditions,” the spokesperson added.
Fish did not respond to a request for comment from The Christian Post.
According to Nonprofit Issues, the IRS allows charity organizations that ordinarily rent their facilities to the public to rent facilities to political candidates at standard rates without being deemed to be intervening in a political campaign.
Since its enactment, the Johnson Amendment has been a frequent source of controversy for churches and other nonprofits over what some say is a denial of the First Amendment right to take political stances.
In 2017, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding more leniency for churches defying the Johnson Amendment, but it was not officially repealed.
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: [email protected]
Free Religious Freedom Updates
Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST newsletter for free, sent twice a week from The Christian Post.