The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Gay-Bashing Church Could Lose Tax Exemption

By Sonia Scherr on April 9, 2010 - 11:22 am, Posted in Anti-LGBT, Anti-Muslim

A Florida church known for its Muslim bashing is now taking aim at a gay mayoral candidate — and possibly endangering its tax exemption.

Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville has been attacking City Commissioner Craig Lowe, one of two candidates vying for mayor in an April 13 run-off election. The church erected a sign on its property last month that declared, “No Homo Mayor.” That was followed by a YouTube video in which Wayne Sapp, a pastor at the church, targets Lowe, whom he doesn’t identify by name. The video begins with Sapp proclaiming “No Homo Mayor” and asserting that Gainesville is the 11th gayest city in America. “We’re talking about the homos, the fags, the queers, and now we got one running for mayor of Gainesville, trying to convert Gainesville into Homoville,” he says. “We can’t have it.” In the video, Sapp complains that Dove World Outreach Center called more than 100 churches to ask that they join a protest against homosexuals running for office, but none would do so. Sapp lashes out at some ministers and churches by name and urges churchgoers to oust pastors who won’t take a stand. “Vote’em out of there,” he says. “They’re leading you to Hell, and you’re following.”

The video was removed from YouTube for violating its terms of use, according to the website of the Independent Florida Alligator, a student newspaper at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where the video can still be viewed. In a follow-up video posted on the church’s website, Sapp says that gays should not hold public office because they’re perverts. “Homosexuals are going to force themselves upon your children in schools,” he said. “You’re going to be forced to hire the homo to work for your church, to work in your office, to allow the devil himself to come into your office.” The anti-gay rants are somewhat new territory for Dove Outreach, which since last summer has been publicly defaming Muslims with its “Islam is of the Devil” signs and T-shirts.

Unlike its rhetoric attacking Muslims, the church’s latest campaign could lead to trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. In a March 19 story, The Gainesville Sun reported that the “No Homo Mayor” sign likely contravened the law banning tax-exempt organizations from advocating for or against political candidates. A week later, the Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote a letter to the IRS asking the agency to investigate the church and ensure the law is enforced. “This is an open and shut case,” said Lynn in a statement. “The church freely admits that it intended to intervene in the election in violation of federal tax law.”

Eric Smith, a spokesman for the IRS, told Hatewatch that the agency is prohibited by law from commenting on investigations, though changes in the status of tax-exempt organizations are reported in a weekly IRS bulletin. It’s relatively uncommon for an organization’s tax-exempt status to be revoked, and the process often takes months or years. (Meanwhile, county officials are conducting an unrelated investigation into whether the church’s for-profit furniture business nullifies its local tax exemption. Sheila Crapo, who works in the Alachua County Property Appraiser’s Office, said she had met with church officials and that the property appraiser would make a decision before June, when the county sends out any denials for exemptions. The church property is assessed at $1.65 million, according to county records.)

The Rev. Terry Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center, told The Gainesville Sun that the church was merely exercising its First Amendment Right to free speech when it put up the sign. “We are within our constitutional rights,” he said.

Not so, say tax law experts. Both Robert Atkinson, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Laura Chisolm, a professor at Case Western Reserve University Law School, told Hatewatch that the church’s “No Homo Mayor” message appears to violate the prohibition on tax-exempt organizations taking part in political campaigns. However, the law often isn’t enforced for “de minimus” (small) infractions; Atkinson noted that leaders of large churches routinely tell members to vote against candidates who support abortion rights and that Catholic clergy have tried to deny religious rites to such candidates.

But Chisolm felt the IRS might act in this case. “When the activity is as ‘in your face’ as this, I suspect the IRS might not ignore it, although they may try just to get a promise to quit it and not do it again,” she wrote in an E-mail. “The first amendment free speech argument has been tried before, and hasn’t worked. Although the government cannot prohibit anyone from speaking, the courts, including the Supreme Court, have held that the government can condition the privilege of tax exemption on forgoing certain kinds of speech, as long as there are alternative avenues for the speech.”

Dove Outreach has since retreated somewhat. The Gainesville Sun reported this week that the church changed its sign from “No Homo Mayor” to “No Homo.” (However, a video remains posted on the church’s website in which Sapp says that Gainesville can’t afford a gay mayor.) Americans United responded that the church’s action came too late and that the IRS should still revoke its tax exemption.

Regardless of the IRS’s decision, the church seems to be on theologically shaky ground. “It’s ironic that a church would be doing this,” Atkinson said. “I think they would find themselves constrained not by the laws of the state but by the principles of Christianity that forbid hate generally.”

  • steve

    tax ’em

  • ralph nixon

    The bible never includes the word homosexual. The sin you are referring to is taken out of context and used to suit your self righteous beliefs. Read on: Leviticus was a very small faction created by Levi, one of the sons of Jacob. According to what I have read, prostitution ran rampant and married men were sleeping with other women and men so that scripture was written with that in mind. Furthermore God didnt write the bible man did. The bible is a great story book but open to interpretation with many passages that are not relevant to modern times. Of course these are my opinions as you have yours.

  • JRF

    What profiteth it a church if it preserve its tax exemption, but lose its soul? And if a church hath lost its saltiness (or light), it is worthless except to be tossed on the ground and trampled underfoot.
    Too many (all) churches have sold their voice of light and salt to a lost and drowning world, for only thirty pieces of tax-exempt silver, playing by the rules of a lost government!
    This church should stand by its principles, and IN LOVE, willingly abandon its tax exempt status, to be free to speak the truth. What a refreshing witness that would be to a lost world. Finally, a church that would stand by its principles! If they have to reduce their budget, so what? Will God not bless his people who speak and live His truths?

  • dawn

    we as a chuch do not accept gay. we belive it is a sin. we pray for the person. if you read the bible it will tell you it is a sin. the bible is ment to be as a book to live your life by. if we let this slide what next?

  • NTX

    The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” I agree with this. But I believe what we have here is a group of people who are putting a mask of Christianity on their hatred of gay people. The Christian religion does not support the gay lifestyle, but it does not support hatred of gay people either. Any church that presents itself as being a Christian church, and which openly supports bashing people of other religions and gays, is engaging in political activities. Such an organization should be considered a PAC and taxed as such.

  • IslandGyal

    I may be wrong, a wasn’t paying attention then, but I don’t remember liberals carrying guns to GW rallies nor liberals committing OK style terrorism and killing “American people” real li Dr. Tiller or imagined like the ones who will be burdened with the national debt or is a cell in a woman’s womb.

  • Expatriot

    Dove Outreach should be ashamed. When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of his time what the most important laws were, he responded, “Love God, and love your neighbors.” Apparently, Dove missed that.

  • IslandGyal

    You are so right, I think christianity and ALL other religions are BULL CRAP!

  • Snorlax

    IslandGyal thinks that “…the principles of Christianity that forbid hate generally” are “bull crap”.

    Obviously she is not a Christian.

    Because Christianity is all about that.

    Or at least it used to be.

  • Snorlax

    Dove Outreach isn’t Christian.

    They’re Pharisees.

    Jesus would be siding with the gay mayor. He didn’t bash gays.

  • Hope

    Direct link to the article containing the video:

  • IslandGyal

    Oh please!, what bull crap

    “Atkinson said. “I think they would find themselves constrained not by the laws of the state but by the principles of Christianity that forbid hate generally.””

  • Tokkar

    OUTSTANDING! Now, if we can only get the tax exemption revoked from a few (hundred) other churches around the nation, maybe then people might start to realize something…being a bigot is costly!