Whether in Yakima, Washington, or El Paso, Texas, people understand that our government is to stay away from religious issues and not enforce their views upon its citizens. The IRS, however, is embracing the argument from a different angle.
Since Pastor Tom Brown, Word of Life Church in El Paso, has taken a religious stance, the subject of which the government over the past few years has turned into a political issue, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has been paying close attention. They found a way to submit a complaint to the IRS in regard to Brown’s involvement with this issue.
Brown has boldly stated his views regarding homosexuality and, lately, against domestic partner benefits being granted to gay and unmarried (gay or straight) partners of city employees. He doesn’t believe city money should be spent supporting lifestyles that are abnormal or immoral.
It seems the majority of voters in El Paso agree with him. Last November, a ballot initiative overturned a year-old law which granted health benefits to partners of unmarried city workers. Those voters passed an ordinance by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin to make “health benefits available only to city employees and their legal spouse and dependent children.”
U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo upheld the initiative.
City Council dismisses results of initiative
Even though the citizens of El Paso voted against benefits for domestic partners of city employees, Mayor John Cook, along with city council members Susie Byrd and Steve Ortega successfully overturned the will of the people by voting to restore health benefits to gay and unmarried partners of city employees. Beto O’Rourke and Rachel Quintana, both of whom will soon leave the council, also voted in favor of restoring the benefits. Michael Noe replaces Quintana and has indicated he would not have voted the way she did because he would have respected the will of the voters.
Carl Robinson, Eddie Holguin, Ann Morgan Lilly, and Emma Acosta voted against the measure restoring benefits.
In response to the city council vote, Pastor Brown said,
“39,016 voters had their votes literally thrown away by city council. The mayor threw out our most basic fundamental civil right. That is enough to undo all the good that he thinks he’s ever done.”
He is advocating the recall of Cook, Byrd, and Ortega, an action which has prompted the letter of complaint by the AU to the IRS threatening the tax-exempt status of his church. The complaint asserts that “Tom Brown Ministries appears to have run afoul of federal tax law, which prohibits houses of worship, ministries and other 501(c)(3) non-profit groups from endorsing or opposing candidates.”
According to Brown, he is not violating any IRS regulation as there’s no candidate in a recall petition,
“The IRS only forbids a pastor, during a worship service or one of their regular services, to endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.”
“The complaint filed against us is frivolous and politically motivated. The group only targets conservative, Bible believing churches. The complaint has no basis in law. The church has not broken any IRS regulation.”
Gay Benefits Issue Could Get El Paso Pastor In Trouble “The El Paso Times reported that Brown made an announcement about the recall drive during a June 28 gathering with some 1,500 members of his congregation. But his lawyer had reportedly told him that being involved in a recall election is different from promoting a candidate during a regular election.”
The AU contends that his website is the official site for his ministry and that he is violating federal tax law by using it for political purposes, though there is a disclaimer: “This internet site is owned by Tom Brown and not the church.”
Statement from Pastor Tom Brown
City Council knows better: Don’t ignore wishes of El Paso voters “Not only do these specific members of City Council have little regard for their constituents, they seem to also have a disregard for the predominant faith of the city which they represent. Progressive as El Paso might be, it is still a city which largely adheres to the Catholic faith. The blatant disregard for the public voice appears to double as a referendum on the Catholic Church.”
See also: Mich. Moves to Cut DP Benefits “Proponents of the repeal say it’s not a social issue but a matter of money…… Michigan has a $1.4 billion budget deficit, and the benefits represent one cost that new Republican governor Rick Snyder would like to cut.”