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Americans United for Separation of Church and State is already filing complaints for the IRS to investigate churches whose pastors participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday — endorsing a presidential candidate and jeopardizing their church’s tax-exempt status.

“These pastors flagrantly violated the law and now must deal with the consequences,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Continued Lynn, “This is one of the most appalling Religious Right gambits I’ve ever seen. Church leaders are supposed to tend to Americans’ spiritual needs, not behave like partisan political hacks. I urge the IRS to act swiftly in these cases.”

Six churches — whose pastors all endorsed (surprise, surprise) John McCain and Sarah Palin — are mentioned specifically. Here are some of them:

Warroad Community Church, Warroad, Minn.: Pastor Gus Booth told his congregation, “We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates. And it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out. The most righteous is John McCain.”

Calvary Chapel, Philadelphia, Pa.: The Rev. Francis Pultro told the congregation, “As Christians it’s clear we should vote for John McCain. He is the only candidate I believe a Christian can vote for.”

First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, Calif.: The Rev. Wiley Drake said, “I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors. I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don’t like that, too bad….According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama. Mr. Obama is not standing up for anything that is tradition in America.”

College students aren’t taking this lightly.

At Iowa State University, both atheist and religious students joined forces to speak out against this violation of church/state separation.

Members of the ISU Atheists and Agnostics Society and representatives of Collegiate United Methodist Church & Wesley Foundation set up booths outside the Parks Library on Friday to voice their disapproval of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

Anastasia Bodnar, graduate student in agronomy, said she was glad the Atheists and Agnostic Society could work with the Wesley Foundation to speak out against Pulpit Freedom Sunday. She said it is clearly in opposition to laws concerning the separation of church and state, and if tolerated, would be harmful to both institutions.

“That’s not what churches are for,” Bodnar said. “They’re for spirituality and for helping people find their way in life, and charity, and all of these really good things. To take that and dirty it with our current political system, it’s really blasphemous.”

That’s how it should be. Endorsing candidates from the pulpit is bad for all churches. Christians ought to be as upset about Sunday’s activities as atheists.

Do these participating pastors have so little faith in their own congregations that they don’t trust them to vote of their own accord?

(Thanks to Matthew for the link!)