Atheist group asks IRS to investigate Florida megachurch hosting 'Evangelicals for Trump' launch

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is urging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate a Miami church hosting a 2020 campaign event for President Trump.

The Wisconsin-based atheist and agnostic group alleges "illegal campaign intervention activities" after Pastor Guillermo Maldonado, who founded King Jesus International Ministry and leads a network of more than 330 churches in 50 countries, addressed churchgoers' concerns Sunday during a Spanish-language service about the rally scheduled for Friday night.

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In reference to fears that Trump would deport attendees who lack proper immigration papers, given the president's hardline immigration policies, Maldonado said, “I don’t think the president would do such a thing. Don’t put your race or your nationality over being a Christian. Be mature ... If you want to come, do it for your pastor. That’s a way of supporting me.”

Guillermo Maldonado, pastor of King Jesus International Ministry Church, speaks to the crowd, Friday, October 9th, 2009 in Miami. Maldonado will host President Donald Trump at a rally this week. He is guaranteeing that parishioners who entered the U.S. illegally won't risk deportation by attending. 

Guillermo Maldonado, pastor of King Jesus International Ministry Church, speaks to the crowd, Friday, October 9th, 2009 in Miami. Maldonado will host President Donald Trump at a rally this week. He is guaranteeing that parishioners who entered the U.S. illegally won't risk deportation by attending.  (Charles Trainor Jr./The Miami Herald via AP)

The pastor added that the church is not organizing or financing the "Evangelicals for Trump" coalition launch at his church in West Kendall, south of Miami, where more than 70 Christian pastors are set to throw their support behind the president who won with 80 percent of evangelical support in the 2016 election.

FFRF said the pastor's comments and the location of the event violate the Johnson Amendment that essentially regulates tax-exempt organizations such as churches and religious groups from being too politically involved, something Trump has repeatedly said he got rid of with an executive order.

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“It would be hard to imagine a more overt and flagrant violation of ethics and the IRS code than this planned rally,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But perhaps it is not surprising, given the president’s incessant and untrue mantra that the Johnson Amendment has been repealed.”

Pastors Paula White-Cain, Jentezen Franklin, and others join in prayer for President Trump amid House Democrats' impeachment push.

Pastors Paula White-Cain, Jentezen Franklin, and others join in prayer for President Trump amid House Democrats' impeachment push. (Official White House Photos by Joyce Boghosian)

First Liberty Institute chief of staff, Mike Berry, told Fox News FRFF is "using the same, tired tactics used by anti-religious organizations to try to intimidate religious Americans into silence."

“The First Amendment secures every American's right – including religious Americans – to be politically engaged," Berry added. "Tonight’s rally is evidence that religious Americans are finally ignoring the empty threats of anti-religious zealots.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who advised both former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, issued a statement calling the rally "politically brilliant" in light of Democrats' "unprecedented hard left turn" away from Obama's "Hope and Change" campaign.

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"Latino evangelicals represent a constituency that is pro-life, supportive of religious liberty, and focused on biblical justice," Rodriguez said. "I do not foresee Latino evangelicals sacrificing core values by supporting an agenda or an ideology that affirms abortion in the third trimester (and beyond), attacks religious liberty, and espouses a socialistic worldview that destroyed Venezuela and Cuba and serves as the primary conduit for economic and civil rights oppression in Latin America.”

The event, one of several different Trump coalitions to form since last year's launch, comes the day Christianity Today editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, retires after writing a December editorial calling for Trump's removal from office, which received swift backlash from nearly 200 evangelical leaders, including Franklin Graham.

The son of the late Rev. Billy Graham and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association blasted the magazine for invoking his father's name even though he had "dissociated himself from the magazine years ago."

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“My father knew Donald Trump, believed in Donald Trump, and in this last election, he voted for Donald Trump,” Graham told Fox News in December. “And if he were here today, I'm sure he would tell you that himself.”

Fox News' Louis Casiano and Dom Calicchio contributed to this report.