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Church called out for judicial retention pamphlet

October 15, 2012

DES MOINES - Politics and religion have collided at a Burlington church after pamphlets encouraging voters to remove an Iowa Supreme Court justice were made available at a Sunday service.

A woman who attended the City Church service on Sept. 30 told a pastor she believed it was illegal for a church to display material that promotes specific political action. That pastor told her it wasn't illegal, and in an Oct. 7 sermon another pastor, Steve Youngblood, castigated her for raising objections about the pamphlets that back the removal of Justice David Wiggins.

"Don't call yourself a Christian and do that," Youngblood said in the sermon. "We need to draw a line in the sand. We need to begin to say that at City Church this is how we're going to be."

Under a 1954 federal law, it is illegal for tax-exempt organizations, including churches, to promote political candidates or ballot issues. Those who violate the law can lose their tax exempt status, which allows tax deductions on money given to a church and allows a church to avoid paying property taxes.

The woman who objected to the pamphlet contacted the Facebook page of Vote Yes To Retain Iowa Supreme Court Justices on Oct. 3, and a complaint was filed with the Internal Revenue Service on Oct. 10, alleging the church is involved in a political campaign.

An IRS spokesman declined to comment Friday.

"The IRS is prohibited by law from commenting on any specific taxpayer or entity," spokesman Christopher Miller wrote in an email response to The Associated Press.

In his Oct. 7 sermon, the audio of which was posted online, Youngblood speaks of the woman who complained, saying he'd "like to slap her" and that her husband should rise up and "correct her."

"What makes me madder is that this person's husband won't correct them," he said. "I don't like rebellious women. I don't like rebellious men, either. They're even worse."

Youngblood then told the 150 people attending the service that the pamphlets are available, and he encouraged them to pick one up.

City Church services are held in the ballroom of the Hotel Burlington, a former downtown hotel converted into an apartment building.

Youngblood said Friday that a church member placed the pamphlets on a table in the foyer, outside the ballroom.

Youngblood said the pamphlets, which encouraged people to vote against retaining Wiggins in the Nov. 6 election, were not distributed in church and the church wasn't advising church members on the issue. Social conservative groups have mounted a statewide campaign to remove Wiggins because he joined a unanimous 2009 ruling that found a law banning same-sex marriage violated the Iowa Constitution.

A similar effort sparked by the same ruling succeeded in removing three other justices in the 2010 election.



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