Complaint to IRS filed against Hastings pastor

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 19, 2010 - 10:40 PM

Pulpit endorsements get attention of group pushing church-state separation.

A pastor in Hastings who taunted the federal government to come after him from his pulpit Sunday may get what he wanted.

A nonprofit group that has long advocated church-state separation filed a complaint Monday with the Internal Revenue Service over the Rev. Brad Brandon's endorsement of 11 candidates, most of them Republicans.

The endorsements by Brandon, who heads the Berean Bible Baptist Church, amount to a "blatant violation of federal law," according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. IRS officials haven't responded to the complaint, a spokesman for Americans United said Tuesday.

For more than a half-century, the federal tax code has prohibited clergy from endorsing political candidates. Doing so can lead to the loss of a church's tax-exempt status.

In announcing his plan to flout the prohibition, Brandon last week called it "entirely unconstitutional" and said he hoped the IRS would take action against him.

Although pastors across the country have staged similar protests for years (more than 100 of them this year alone), the IRS has dropped them after investigating the cases, and agency officials have declined to say why they did so.

Over the years, Americans United has filed more than 100 complaints with the agency over clergy members' political endorsements. "It's nice to know I've got a lot of company," Brandon said.

Brandon said that if the IRS opens an investigation, "I'm certainly not thrilled, but it's a small price to pay to protect my freedom of speech."

He has listed his endorsements on the church's website with the admonition, "may God be glorified in the upcoming election."

Among the candidates he endorsed were the GOP gubernatorial bid by Tom Emmer and the congressional campaigns of Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline.

Of the 11 candidates endorsed, nine are Republicans, one is from the Independence Party and one is from the Constitution Party.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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