Church and State: Political Sign Taken Down in Elmore Co.


By Heather VacLav

This close to the elections, political signs are expected in yards and roadways, but one sign is making quite a statement because of where it's located in Elmore County.

For the past month, drivers passed a large sign on Highway 14 in the town of Elmore reading: “Vote Democratic.” The sign was posted by the Elmore County Democratic Party on the property of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

“This was a good location because there was a lot of traffic, so I spoke with the church lady here and she said that we wouldn't have any problem,” said Thomas Brown, Chairman for the Elmore County Democratic Party.

After CBS-8 News spoke to Mount Zion Church and Elmore County Democratic Party about the issue, they decided to move the sign off of church property. If not, the IRS could have removed Mount Zion's tax-exempt status as a non-profit.

“The pastor knew about it, the congregation agreed to put it up there, so I didn't see anything wrong with it,” said David Foster, a trustee for Mount Zion Church and an Elmore town councilman.

However, several church members told CBS-8 News the church did not discuss the posting the sign with the congregation.

The Elmore County Democratic Party says it received at least one complaint about the "Vote Democratic" sign, and told the church spokeswoman Ruth Dunkin about it.

“I did call Ms. Dunkin back and she said she had no problem with it,” Brown said. “I was looking more at a democracy type thing, where we need to advertise that there are more than one political party in Alabama.”

In a statement, Elmore County Republican Party Chairman Mike Holmes said:

"From our perspective, the political sign on what I assume is Church property is an issue for the Church leaders and the Democratic Party leadership to address. I assume that they are aware that this action of placing a political sign there may jeopardize the Church's tax exempt status with the internal revenue service."

When CBS-8 News asked Thomas Brown Wednesday afternoon about removing the sign, he said the Elmore County Democratic party would not have a problem doing it.

“If there is a legal thing then we will simply remove the sign and put it in another location, you know, no big deal,” Brown said.

“It’s on church grounds yes, but if it’s a problem, we'll take care of it yes,” Foster said.

The sign was removed around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Elmore County Democratic Party also told CBS-8 News Mount Zion's secretary, who handles the finances and taxes, was unaware of the sign's potential tax-threatening problems until Wednesday, when CBS-8 brought it to his attention.