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13 October 2011

Repudiation: Robert Jeffress Mixing Church and State

Many political pundits have either lauded or criticized Mr. Jeffress for his speech at the Value Voters Summit, introducing Mr. Perry.  The disapproval has even come from the right, as in this speech by Bill Bennett.  Mr. Jeffress has not backed down as here on CNN, many times calling the Mormon faith a cult.

The definition of Christianity has evolved somewhat over the years.  The most common yardstick for determining if a belief system is Christian is the Nicene Creed, dating back to around 325 C.E.  By this definition, there are a number of modern religions, including Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, and some others that call themselves Christian, that are not Christian.  From my outside vantage, as a Jew, it doesn't matter whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) is considered Christian or not, but it is a point of major controversy, particularly in the evangelical community.

None of that crosses the line between Church and State.  What might cross the line is a video of Mr. Jeffress on the pulpit of his church and accessible through the church websiteAmericans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the IRS to consider the 501(c)3, tax exempt, status of the First Baptist Church based on that video.

CNN has a piece that appears to support Americans United for Separation of Church and StateAssociated Baptist Press has a piece that appears to support Mr. JeffressThe American Family Association is weighing in on the side of Mr. Jeffress

The question really boils down to whether Mr. Jeffress and the First Baptist Church are in violation of the 501(c)3 statutes that prohibit political activity (pertinent section of the IRS code begins on page 7, in pdf format it is page 9 of IRS Guide 1828).  Based on the guidelines in the right column of page 8, it is my opinion that Mr. Jeffress crossed that line and that his tax exempt status should be in question.

Please note that I am not against Freedom of Speech for Mr. Jeffress.  I support his right to say anything he wants to say that does not lead to harm to others.  But, Freedom of Speech, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, does not guarantee tax exempt status.  The establishment clause does not guarantee tax exempt status.  Actions, including speech, have consequences.  Mr. Jeffress may want to have only Christians who believe what he believes as President of the United States and he should have the freedom to express such bigotry.  However, my tax dollars should not be supporting his bigotry.

3 January 2012, FollowUp 1.

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