A political endorsement video for churches recorded by Vice President Kamala Harris is receiving criticism in some legal circles for its alleged violation of federal law.
The video will be played in more than 300 black churches before Election Day in Virginia, which features a tight gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. CNN first reported news about the video.
NEW -- More than 300 Black churches across VA will hear from @KamalaHarris btwn Sun. and November 2 in video message that will air during morning services as part of outreach effort aimed to boost @TerryMcAuliffe.#VAGOV— Eva McKend (@evamckend) October 16, 2021
Video first obtained by CNN https://t.co/vaefXtWqUe pic.twitter.com/l8re0KUkN1
Harris, in the video, touts McAuliffe's record and thanks churches for supporting her and President Biden. She also urges church members to vote.
Although she never uses the word "endorse," the idea is implied. The video spans about two minutes and 30 seconds.
"Virginians, you deserve a leader who has a vision of what is possible – and the experience to realize that vision. Terry McAuliffe is that leader," she says in the video. "In 2020, More Virginians voted than ever before and because you did, you helped send President Joe Biden and me to the White House. This year, I know that you will send Terry McAuliffe back to Richmond. So, early voting has already started. And this is the first year that you can vote on Sunday. So, please vote after today's service. And if you cannot vote today, make a plan to go vote."
Harris also discusses her faith background.
"When I was growing up, we sang in the choir at Oakland's 23rd Avenue Church of God," she says. "We sang hymns about how faith, combined with determination, will see us through difficult times. And we were taught that it was our sacred responsibility to raise our voice, and lift up the voices of our community. One of the most significant ways I believe that we can each use our voice is through our vote. So, Virginians, you have the opportunity now to raise your voice through your vote, because it's election time."
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, says Harris' pitch is a violation of the law.
"The problem is that such direct politicking in tax-exempt churches has been unlawful for decades," Turley wrote on his blog, referencing the so-called IRS Johnson amendment, which prohibits churches from participating in or intervening in "any political campaign." The amendment also bans "the publishing or distributing of statements."
"If this is indeed played in churches (as opposed to simply posted on Internet sites), it does appear a premeditated and unambiguous violation of the federal law governing churches as non-for-profit institutions," Turley said.
Columnist and author Daniel Darling noted the difference in national coverage between Harris' video and similar videos or appearances in churches by Republican candidates.
"Just want to say absolute panic would ensue if conservative churches did this," Darling said on Twitter. "I'm not a fan of any side doing it, but it's amazing how the conversation is different."
Just want to say absolute panic would ensue if conservative churches did this. I’m not a fan of any side doing it, but it’s amazing how the conversation is different. https://t.co/nGV8RC8i57— Daniel Darling (@dandarling) October 17, 2021
Darling added, "I don't mind politicians speaking in churches on Christian themes. Some politicians have also served as pastors. They are people who like to serve their churches. What I think we object to is explicitly partisan messages on Sunday am designed to get out the vote."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.