- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2024

An atheist group has asked the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of a California megachurch whose pastor said in a sermon that U.S. Senate candidate and former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Garvey is the candidate “you gotta vote for.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which promotes “nonbelief” and monitors church-state issues, told the IRS that Calvary Chapel Chino Hills in Chino, California, has “chosen to make a mockery of their 501(c)(3) status by reaping all of the benefits of tax exemption while knowingly violating the statute by openly endorsing political candidates running for public office.”

A recording of the Feb. 25 comments by senior pastor Jack Hibbs posted to X by Right Wing Watch shows him saying, “I want to publicly right now, today, encourage all of you to vote for Steve Garvey. You gotta vote for Steve Garvey.”

Moments later, Mr. Hibbs steps out from behind the lectern and says, “I just remember it’s against the law for me to say that in the pulpit.”

Moving to the front of the stage, he say:, “So as a public citizen Steve Garvey is not only one of the greatest baseball players of all time, but we want Steve Garvey to represent us in the Senate. And so Steve Garvey is your … only guy on the ballot. So there, that was legal. I just had to move from here to there. As a private citizen.”

In a letter to the tax agency, Chris Line, staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote: “Calvary Chapel Chino Hills has breached the responsibilities of its tax-exempt status” with Mr. Hibbs’ endorsement of Mr. Garvey, a Republican. The church’s status should be revoked and parishioners’ donations should no longer be tax-deductible, he said.

Mr. Hibbs did not respond to a request for comment.

Calvary Chapel Chino Hills is not the only church to run afoul of the group. Mr. Line told The Washington Times in an email the group called on the IRS in 2023 to revoke the tax exemption of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a Black congregation in Stonecrest, Georgia, whose senior pastor, Jamal Bryant, “used the pulpit to tell his congregation not to vote for U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, a Republican, in the November 2022 election,” implying they should vote for incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat.

Mr. Bryant told the congregation, according to the group, “In 2022, we don’t need a Walker, we need a runner. We need someone who is going to run and tell the truth about January 6th. We need someone who is going to run and push for the cancellation of student loan debts. We need someone who is going to run and make the former president respond to a subpoena.”

Mr. Line said the group received no response from the IRS about the New Birth church request.

Mr. Garvey is doing well in the polls leading up to California’s nonpartisan primary on Tuesday.

In a poll of likely voters conducted by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and released Friday, 27% said they would vote for Mr. Garvey, 25% for Rep. Adam Schiff, 19% for Rep. Katie Porter and 8% for Rep. Barbara Lee, all California Democrats. 

The RealClear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Schiff up 6 points over Mr. Garvey. The top two vote-getters on Tuesday move on to the general election in November.

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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