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An Edmond-based religious nonprofit caught the attention of a national organization for the separation of church and state



Americans United for Separation of Church and State has formally requested that the Internal Revenue Service investigate the Edmond-based Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. According to AU spokesperson Rob Boston, Reclaiming Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization based at Fairview Baptist Church, violated federal law when it promoted a rally for Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, on June 24.

Paul Blair, the pastor of Fairview Baptist and founder of Reclaiming Oklahoma, said AU took inaccurate information from an Oklahoma Gazette article, "Preaching to the choir," published on July 14.

"This group makes hundreds or thousands of false accusations every year to intimidate pastors," Blair said. "Reclaiming Oklahoma has not held a fundraiser for, sponsored or contributed to any candidate's campaign. We have not endorsed a candidate."

Blair said the e-mail in question, which was sent to Reclaiming Oklahoma's mailing list from the e-mail address for the group's advisory board, was simply a reminder to attend the event.

"We send out reminders all the time," he said. "We make people aware of issues, especially religious liberty issues."

Kern said that Reclaiming Oklahoma did not sponsor the Rally for Sally in any way, referring to this line in the Gazette article: "Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ also sponsored the Rally for Sally, a fundraiser for Rep. Sally Kern's District 84 re-election campaign."

"The organization has never contributed to or sponsored my campaign," Kern said. "I simply asked everyone I knew with a mailing list to send a reminder about my rally. I paid the guest speaker an honorarium from my own checkbook, and I used campaign funds to cover his airfare."

But Boston said promoting the event was also a problem: "From our perspective, it doesn't matter whether Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ sponsored the rally or promoted it. The group isn't allowed to do either. Our letter to the IRS also maintains that the message Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ sent with it attacking Kern's opponent is political intervention."

Boston was referring to a paragraph in the e-mail sent by Reclaiming Oklahoma quoted in the original Gazette piece: "In case you missed it, the homosexual lobby has recruited an individual that has had a sex change operation to run against Rep. Kern. The homosexual lobby from across America will be pouring money into this local race in an attempt to make a statement to the country by knocking out an outspoken Christian, pro-family representative. If they succeed, it will serve as a warning shot across the bough of all elected officials who defend Biblical values."

Blair said AU has filed a complaint on Fairview Baptist in the past, but believes the group is trying to intimidate pastors out of their free-speech rights.

AU asked the IRS to investigate Fairview Baptist and Yukon's Trinity Baptist Church in October 2008 when pastors endorsed presidential candidate John McCain from the pulpit in defiance of federal laws governing political speech from 501(c)3 organizations. --Greg Horton

top photo The Rev. Paul Blair
bottom photo state Rep. Sally Kern, R-OKC

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