Minnesota pastor violated tax law, watchdog group says

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A northern Minnesota church is under fire for a sermon that told Christians that they cannot vote for Sens. Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church gave the sermon and later acknowledged that he knew he was violating Internal Revenue Service rules. He is also a Republican party activist. Warroad is on Lake of the Woods near the Minnesota-Canada border.

“If you are a Christian, you cannot support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama,” said Booth in a May 18 sermon. “Both Hillary and Barack favor the shedding of innocent blood (abortion) and the legalization of the abomination of homosexual marriage.”

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is urging the IRS to investigate the church. “Booth is free to endorse anyone he wants to as a private citizen,” the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director said in a statement Wednesday. “But when he is standing in his tax-exempt pulpit as the top official of a tax-exempt religious organization, he must lay partisanship aside. The IRS needs to look into this apparent violation of federal tax law.”

In a column in the church’s newsletter, Booth acknowledged that he knew that his sermon would break federal tax law that prohibits tax-exempt churches from endorsing candidates for office. “I have read in the past about how you have a campaign to intimidate churches into silence when it comes to speaking about candidates for office,” wrote Booth. “I am letting you know that I will not be intimidated into silence when I believe that God wants me to address the great moral issues of the day, including who will be our next national leader.”

But Booth is not just a pastor expressing his views as a religious leader; he’s a registered Republican and party activist. He was selected to be a delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September.