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Watchdog Group Goes After Anti-Obama Pastor in Ky.

by Dylan Lovan
Tuesday May 22, 2012
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - An eastern Kentucky Baptist pastor troubled by President Barack Obama’s views on gay marriage violated federal law when he urged his followers to vote the president out of office in November, a Washington watchdog group said.

Pastor Ronnie Spriggs of Hager Hill Freewill Baptist Church said during a May 13 sermon that he wants Obama voted out of office because of the president’s support of gay marriage.

Obama "said that he believes that gays ought to have the right to marry in the United States. That’s the president of the United States who said that," Spriggs told his flock during the sermon. "I don’t know about you folks, but I’m going on record and I don’t care who knows it. I want the guy out."

The statements elicited cheers from the flock and supporting shouts of "Amen!"

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said Spriggs’ comments violate a federal law that says tax-exempt churches should not oppose a candidate.

Executive Director Barry Lynn said the group receives several tips during election seasons of churches that may be violating the law, but he said only a few reports are sent to the IRS.

"This is one of the most over the top, unequivocal statements of opposition to a candidate that we have seen in a long time. Usually it’s a little bit fuzzier," Lynn said. "This guy clearly doesn’t care what the law says."

He said so far this year, the group has filed two IRS complaints concerning the presidential election.

Spriggs did not return phone calls to his home and the church. A video of the sermon was posted on the Johnson County church’s website.

Spriggs touched on the topic briefly during the sermon, beginning by announcing, "I said I wasn’t going to get into it but I will for a moment ... I’m disappointed in our president, I’m going on record."

He said "this country can’t afford that kind of ideology in that office."

Obama earlier this month declared his unequivocal support for gay marriage, the first time a sitting president has done so. Gay rights advocates cheered Obama’s declaration, after urging him for years to show his support. The president once opposed gay marriage but more recently had said his views were "evolving."

Lynn said Spriggs is free to condemn gay marriage to his followers, but he crosses the line by encouraging them to vote against the president.

"What violates (tax code) is linking it to a candidate and opposition to a candidate," he said. His group filed another complaint last month against the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, where bishops urged listeners to vote against Obama.

Lynn said if the IRS decides to investigate, there are a range of punishments including the church losing its tax-exempt status. But he said he believes that has happened only once in the last 20 years when a church in New York took paid for a newspaper ad urging readers not to vote for Bill Clinton during his first race for president.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2012-05-22 12:46:24

    Hopefully, this will be the 2nd time the IRS enforces the tax exemption rules.


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-22 14:44:26

    Just what type of free will are they encouraging! Theirs!


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-23 13:25:20

    I didn’t know equal rights is an idiology...I have always thought that is an American value. Hateful religious believes is an idiology and those folks would do anything, even if they are wrong, to protect their idiology. I stopped trying to convince crazy religious people to like me, I focus my energy on those who embrace equality and the people without voodoo idiologies.


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-23 13:27:15

    I truly believe many of the churches in the south are political hubs for the Republican party. Why are there so many churches...people do not need four churches within walking distance..


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-23 16:52:25

    The name should be changed from America’s heartland to America’s hateland. Seems more fitting.


  • Anonymous, 2012-05-24 23:19:49

    If these Baptist ministers and "churches" really do know what is in the Bible, then they will be the first to refuse charitable tax privileges given to churches and advocate their abolition. The Bible, including the words of Jesus Christ, make it very clear that people are to give to God what is God’s and to the government what belongs to the government by paying our taxes and that when we give to the church, we are to do so in secret. Frankly, I am getting sick and tired of my tax money giving an indirect subsidy to those who abuse religion by using it to justify spreading hate, fear and anger.


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