Group Wants IRS to Investigate Oklahoma Pastor

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The watchdog group, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has called for the Internal Revenue Service to investigate an Oklahoma church pastor for political comments he allegedly made from the pulpit.

The Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City, is one of dozens of churches nationwide that took part in the recent Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

Rev. Paul Blair, the Edmond church's pastor, announced from the pulpit that he planned to vote for Republican Mary Fallin for governor. He said he was exercising his right to freedom of speech.

Fallin faces Democrat Jari Askins in the November election.

Barry Lynn of Americans United said the pastor violated a law that bans tax-exempt churches from endorsing candidates. He told The Oklahoman that he has written to the IRS about the situation.

"When churches become cogs in any candidate's political machine, they ought to lose their tax exemption," he said. "I urge the IRS to investigate this matter and apply the law."

Two years ago, Lynn filed a similar complaint with the government after Blair told his congregation during a sermon that he would vote for GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

Blair said he isn't too worried about the latest complaint. He said he sent a copy of his McCain sermon to the IRS to let the agency know he was exercising his First Amendment rights.

"In two years, we haven't heard anything from them," he said. "Obviously, if we were doing something illegal, we would have heard from them. We haven't. We have got the constitutional right to do exactly what we've done."

IRS spokeswoman Karen Connelly told The Associated Press that the agency does not comment on ongoing cases.

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