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'A Tactic to Intimidate Houses of Worship': State Attorney General Accused of Silencing Churches

08-27-2018

Hawaii's Attorney General Russell Suzuki has sent a letter to churches in the Aloha state giving them "guidance" heading into the 2018 midterm elections. It's something the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) says is really misleading.

"The news release seeks to silence churches and non-profit charitable organizations by inappropriately threatening their tax-exempt status is they speak about political issues during the upcoming election season," an ADF news release states.

The AG's news release says the office is simply offering guidance to churches, charities, and non-profits so they don't violate any federal or state laws on political campaign activity.

"The guidance was intended as a general helpful reminder for the public, and should be read as such and nothing more. It is part of the role of the Attorney General to educate and inform the public," Special Assistant to the Attorney General James Walther told CBN News when asked to comment on the letter from ADF.

"Tax-exempt charitable organizations should know that they do not share the same legal rights to participate in political activity as individuals and other corporations," the AG's release stated.

"Federal tax law specifically bars such organizations from participating or intervening in political campaigns on behalf of any candidate for public office," it also noted.

ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley wrote to Attorney General Suzuki expressing concern over his letter of guidance. He pointed out that a state attorney general doesn't have the authority to enforce federal tax law. 

"The fact that you released guidance on a law you have no authority or ability to enforce leads to the conclusion that the 'guidance' was nothing more than a tactic to intimidate houses of worship from speaking during this election season," Stanley wrote.

He went on to say that the AG's letter focuses more on "what houses of worship cannot do than on what they have a constitutional and statutory right to do during an election season."

"Houses of worship need not be silent during elections out of a misplaced fear that simply participating in the life of their communities and their state, they will somehow run afoul of federal tax law. The AG's release did note that some activities are allowed like voter education activities but they can't be partisan political campaigning," Stanley also said in his letter.

Columnist Gary Demar agrees and believes the move was politically motivated.

"I wonder what the Attorney General of Hawaii would say about Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaking at a Brooklyn church on August 19 where he attacked President Trump," Demar wrote in a column on godfatherpolitics.com. 

"Addressing politics from the pulpit is only OK if the person speaking is a Democrat and the person being attacked is a Republican. This type of double standard has been going on for decades. Has a black church ever lost its tax-exempt when a pastor addressed politics from the pulpit? Of course not," Demar wrote.

The AG's release also noted the following: "The law also does not restrict the free expression of opinions by individuals or leaders who are associated with charitable organizations."

"Statements advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate by an exempt organization's leaders, however, may threaten the organization's tax-exempt status unless the leaders clearly indicate that their comments do not represent the views of the organization and there is no appearance that the organization's resources were used to issue the statement," it also states.
 

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