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Are anti-gay churches violating tax law with recall efforts?
QSanAntonio, September 27, 2013

Last week, Pastor Charles Flowers and his wife Janice hosted an invitation-only meeting of over 30 pastors at their church, the Faith Outreach Center International. At that gathering, there was a discussion about recalling City Councilman Diego Bernal and Mayor Julian Castro, and support was voiced for a referendum to overturn the city's new nondiscrimination ordinance.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Janice Flowers told Brian Chasnoff from the San Antonio Express-News (who she threw out of the meeting) that there would be no talk of a recall, only the referendum.

Mrs. Flowers was covering the church's bases because a church can loose it's non-profit status if it campaigns for or against a politician.

The referendum, however, can be championed by anti-gay churches because it is an "issue." Organizing for or against a law (or an ordinance) is legal church activity under federal tax law.

QSanAntonio learned from a source who attended the Flowers' 4-hour meeting that participants got a binder with information detailing how churches could help organize the referendum.

What they did not get with those printed materials was how churches can help with the recall of Bernal and Castro. That advice was conveyed verbally at the meeting by Pastor Flowers and his fellow opposition organizers, according to the source.

The Facebook page of Real Truth News, a division of Kingdom Studios, which is supporting the repeal of the ordinance, described the Flowers' meeting in a post with photos:

"Many people left today's planning meeting held at Faith Outreach Int. encouraged, and ready for the challenge to take on city hall once again. Pastor Flowers began the mornings session with some sobering comments on 'the church; why we're where we are in today's culture.' He also pointed out that 'It is up to us right now to implement the right people into city positions. The referendum is not going to come easy but with God all things are possible.' It sure is clear that the church is mobilizing to make a lasting impact in the city of San Antonio that will be felt around the nation. God is with us who can be against us!!"

A September 12 article by Diane Freda in Bloomberg BNA discusses the Internal Revenue Service's regulations after a recent Congressional Research Service warning to non-profits about the distinction between advocacy and campaign activity:

"Under IRS rules, charities are allowed to take positions on policy issues as long as they don't rise to the level of intervening in political campaigns. Intervention is defined as taking verbal or written positions 'on behalf of or in opposition to' candidates.

"Election-related activities, such as putting out voter guides, conducting public forums, registering voters and linking to websites are allowed for charities under the tax code, but there are guidelines for how the activities are to be conducted.

"For instance, charities sponsoring public forums must invite all of the candidates to speak, and the topics must cover a broad range of issues of interest to the general public, not just those of interest to the charity."

Members of the Tea Party Patriots and the Bexar County Conservative Coalition collecting recall signatures across from the Conerstone Church. (Photo: facebook.com/BexarCountyConservativeCoaltn)

One group, the Bexar County Conservative Coalition, is organizing independently but is setting up volunteer tables on the sidewalks in front of churches to give the impression that they are affiliated with those houses of worship. This week, they collected recall signatures in front of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower and at St. Mary Magdalene's Catholic Church.

Deacon Pat Rodgers, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Antonio, recently told the Express-News, "Groups advocating for a recall election have rights in common with the general public to use public property to further their purposes. However, Archdiocesan property (such as churches and parking lots), personnel and resources should not be utilized in any manner. Failure to abide by this federal law could result in a loss of tax exempt status.”

Pastor Gerald Ripley (Photo: abundantlifechurchsa.org)

Pastor Gerald Ripley of the Abundant Life Church this week unveiled a web site, Repeal It SA, that will organize churches to help gather the 75,000 signatures needed by mid-October to get a referendum to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance on the ballot. He lists over 30 different religious organizations as part of his coalition.

Ripley instructs pastors that: "First, it is legally permissible to sign the referendum petitions INSIDE your church building even if you are a 501(c)(3) organization. . . Second, your church captain will oversee this ministry under your supervision so your time involvement will be as minimal as you like. Third . . . a coordinator in your city council district will respond to your church captain’s inquiries."

Pastor Ripley is optimistic. A post on his new web site reads: "When we submit the required number of petition signatures on October 11, 2013, the ordinance passed by City Council will be suspended until the citizens vote it in. THANK YOU for your stand for righteousness in San Antonio with your participation in this referendum!"

Ripley and Flowers' other allies (some of which are registered non-profits) include the Liberty Institute and Liberty Counsel, the San Antonio Family Association, the Texas Leadership Coalition (right-wing Catholics), the San Antonio Human Rights Coalition and the Tea Party Patriots.

One lawyer told QSanAntonio that anyone who wants to report a violation of the IRS' rules for churches, can file a claim with the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Additionally, they can complete IRS form 13909, "Tax-Exempt Organization Complaint (Referral) Form" and submit it to eoclass@irs.gov.

Acrimony persists after passage of NDO
QSanAntonio, September 20, 2013
In the two weeks since the passage of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance that added protections for LGBT citizens, there is still much resentment and acrimony among opponents who are intent on exacting revenge from Mayor Julian Castro and the city council members who voted for the measure.