McCaskill Speeches Could Break ‘Johnson Amendment’ - Word&Way

McCaskill Speeches Could Break ‘Johnson Amendment’

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri seeking reelection this year, has stopped at multiple churches on the campaign trail — despite her office claiming she supports the IRS regulation that prevents houses of worship from intervening in political campaigns. Over the past two weeks, McCaskill, who is Catholic, has attended at least four Baptist services, along with those of two other churches.

Senator Claire McCaskill speaks at Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Oct. 21. (Screen capture from social media)Senator Claire McCaskill speaks at Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Oct. 21. (Screen capture from social media)The political activity ban made headlines in this year’s closely-contested Senate race after McCaskill’s challenger, Republican Josh Hawley, told a group of conservative pastors in August that he believes the ban is “unconstitutional” and should be repealed. After Word&Way broke the story that an address by Hawley, a Presbyterian, during chapel at Hannibal-LaGrange University, a Baptist school in Hannibal, Mo., affiliated with the predominately-white Missouri Baptist Convention, would violate the IRS’s guidelines, HLGU edited its communications about the event to align with the rules. Both HLGU and Hawley then avoided partisan politics during the chapel service.

Following Hawley’s remarks against the political campaign activity ban, a spokesperson for McCaskill told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Claire opposes repealing the Johnson Amendment.” However, at least some of her appearances at Baptist and other church services in recent weeks violate the IRS’s guidelines.

On Oct. 14, McCaskill attended three different church services, including two black Baptist churches and a nondenominational congregation. She wrote on her official Facebook page her appreciation to the churches in the St. Louis area for “welcoming me this weekend.” She added, “Your prayers lift me up. And your youngest members give me hope for the future. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

Among the churches she visited that day was West Side Missionary Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention USA. She also spoke that morning at Shalom Church, which is affiliated with both American Baptist Churches USA and NBCUSA. She spoke during the early service at Shalom just 23 days before the election. The video stream of a second service that morning noted her earlier appearance.

“U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill was here with us at the 7:30 service,” a leader of the church said during the second service. “We’re looking out to make sure that we support her — even if you may not agree with all things, but right now we cannot let another Republican seat to be put in place. Amen? We’ve got to make sure that we keep that one Democratic U.S. seat. Again, thank you. Let’s get excited about going to the polls on Nov. 6.”

During the second service, three local judges seeking reelection were also given time to speak and ask for votes after being introduced as “judges we will be supporting.”

Just 19 days before the election, McCaskill spoke on Oct. 18 during the annual meeting of the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri, a historically black state Baptist convention affiliated with the NBCUSA.

“I was honored to be with the Missionary Baptist State Convention of Missouri in Earth City this morning,” McCaskill wrote on her official Facebook page. “I’ll be honest — I asked for some prayers so that I can keep fighting to protect healthcare, voting rights and Social Security and Medicare for all Missourians.”

The MBSCM also noted McCaskill’s appearance on its Facebook page, calling her one of the “interesting guests.” The MBSCM added, “Senator Claire McCaskill came in with voter inspiring words.”

The following Sunday, Oct. 21, McCaskill spoke at a black Baptist church in Kansas City just 16 days before election day. She offered remarks during the Sunday worship service at Zion Grove Missionary Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention of America. The church’s pastor, Michael Brooks, previously served on Kansas City’s city council until he resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. Prior to visiting Zion Grove, McCaskill that morning also attended St. Therese Little Flower, a Catholic congregation she went to years earlier while living in the area.

Later that day, she wrote on her official Facebook page, “I can’t say it enough: I’m so grateful to every church that has invited me and hosted me and held me in their prayers these past few weeks. Warms my heart.”

McCaskill’s visits to churches did not start in recent weeks. For instance, she spoke on Sept. 9 during services at two churches in St. Louis, including Greater Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, which is affiliated with the Progressive National Baptist Convention. And she spoke on Aug. 19 at Prince of Peace Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis.

McCaskill’s campaign did not respond to request for comment about how she aligns her visits to churches with her stated support for the political campaign activity ban.

While the political activity ban sparked the most headlines in Missouri’s Senate race, it also emerged as an issue in a couple of other midterm races this year, including the Texas Senate race where Republican incumbent Ted Cruz, a Southern Baptist, favors repealing the ban while his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, a Catholic, urges keeping it. Additionally, Republican Jody Hice, a former Southern Baptist pastor who serves as a U.S. Representative from Georgia, also invoked his support for repealing the ban during his reelection campaign.