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Churches preaching politics draws complaints

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Watchdog groups are going after pastors who talked politics at the pulpit this election season. They're attempting to strip churches out of their tax exempt status by complaining to the IRS.

Four days before President Obama was elected to another term, the political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, filed a complaint with the IRS asking for an investigation into the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for politicking at the pulpit.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan is basing her complaint on news articles that quote bishops from Alaska to New York.

"There was some press about all of these bishops who were planning to preach before the election about how basically voting for Obama would send them to hell," Sloan said. "Nobody should feel that if they go into their place of worship and feel pressured to vote."

One bishop, Sloan said compared President Obama to Stalin and Hitler. The statements she felt were in clear violation of a tax law set back in the 50s for churches exempt from federal income tax.

"Tax law says if you're a 501-C3 which includes churches you can't advocate the election or seat of a candidate," Sloan said.

She is hoping the threat of losing tax free status may discourage other churches from repeating the behavior.

"As a matter of policy, diocese and bishops are never to instruct anyone of whom to vote or how to vote," said Christian Gonzalez, director of communications for the Austin Diocese.

Christian Gonzalez, director of communications for the Diocese of Austin says Catholic leaders are only allowed to circulate voter registration forms and an informational guide called "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

"It helps a person get familiar with the issues in line with church teachings and then help them form their vote, to help make an informed vote in a Catholic way, but it's up to each individual and as a general rule the church would never tell anyone who to vote for," Gonzalez said.

Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz sees nothing wrong with political sermons.

"We're talking about private churches. The pastors have a right to use biblical references and to talk about religious beliefs in giving their people in their parishes or their congregations directions about moral issues," Saenz said.

In October the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS against a church in Leakey, Texas for displaying a sign that read, "Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim! The capitalist, not the communist!"

Another IRS complaint has been filed against Pastor Billy Graham's Evangelistic Association.

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