A Southern Baptist preacher who endorsed GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on church letterhead said Wednesday he was being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service for mixing religion with politics.
Rev. Wiley Drake, a prominent pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention, said he received a 14-page letter from the IRS on Feb. 7.
Under federal tax law, church officials can legally discuss politics, but they cannot endorse candidates or parties without risking their tax-exempt status. Most who do so receive a warning.
On Aug. 11, Drake wrote a press release on letterhead from the First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park that announced his personal endorsement of Huckabee and asked all Southern Baptists to get behind the candidate.
"After very serious prayer and consideration, I announce today that I am going to personally endorse Mike Huckabee," the release said. "I ask all of my Southern Baptist brothers and sister to consider getting behind Mike and helping him all you can."
‘I believe God has chosen Mike’
He continued: "I believe God has chosen Mike for such an hour, and I believe of all those running Mike Huckabee will listen to God."
The letter sent to Drake by the IRS also quoted from segments of the pastor's church-based Internet show, "The Wiley Drake Show." In the quotes, Drake endorsed Huckabee again.
"Yes, I endorsed him personally and yes, we use the First Southern Baptist Church. Yes, we broadcast the 'Wiley Drake Show' from the First Southern Baptist Church. Everything we do is under the auspices of the church," Drake said on the show.
IRS spokesman Rafael Tulino said Wednesday that he could not comment.
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS. Drake later lashed out at them in an Aug. 14 press release and urged his supporters to direct "imprecatory prayer" toward two of the group's officials, Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming.
He gave as examples of imprecatory prayer: "Persecute them. ... Let them be put to shame and perish" and "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."
Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United, issued a statement praising the IRS for investigating Drake.
"Americans go to church to grow spiritually, not be lectured on which political candidate to vote for," he said.
‘I think I’m perfectly within my rights’
Drake defended the release and what he had said on his talk show, saying that he was only offering his personal endorsement of Huckabee — not the church's.
"I think I'm perfectly within my rights and I am upset," he told The Associated Press.
His attorney, Eric Stanley, said Drake and other pastors have a right to free speech, even in politics.
"Our position on this is that ... churches and pastors have First Amendment rights just like anybody else and that includes the right to speak out," said Stanley, who is representing Drake on behalf of the Alliance Defense Fund.
"They can feel free to personally endorse candidates. It was not a church endorsement and he made that very clear."
Drake recently completed a term as the second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, its third-highest post. He is running for president of the denomination.
In September, the IRS closed a lengthy investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena without revoking its tax-exempt status.
In a sermon just days before the 2004 presidential election, All Saints' former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, was critical of the Iraq war and President Bush's tax cuts, although he did not urge parishioners to support Bush or his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry.