Bill Keller, founder of LivePrayer.com, is in the news – again.
The Internal Revenue Service is investigating the St. Petersburg-based evangelist for possible violations of his nonprofit tax exemption.
The comment that triggered the inquiry came in the heat of the Republican primary battle last year when Keller told listeners on his call-in Internet program that “a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan.”
This isn’t the first time Keller’s comments have evoked criticism. He’s also angered the Muslim community with anti-Islamic statements made on his program, such as referring to Mohammed as a “murdering pedophile,” and Barack Obama supporters for saying the presidential hopeful is not a Christian.
Keller said Thursday he got the letter from the IRS in early February and “complied fully” with the government’s request for copies of his program, letters, e-mail, financial documents and other supporting materials.
“We got everything to them within two weeks and now we’ve been left hanging,” Keller said. “We could have stonewalled, but we acted quickly. Now they’re holding us hostage until they make a decision.”
Keller said the IRS letter came as a “shock” because he has never endorsed or supported a political candidate.
“I have never told people who to vote for and I never will,” he said. “But I have every right to talk about a candidate from a spiritual perspective. I fully expect to be exonerated.”
He acknowledged that the investigation – which he mentioned to The New York Times this week while being interviewed on another matter – is putting a “cloud over my ministry.” He claims LivePrayer, which is broadcast live from 10 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday from a Largo-based studio, is seen by an estimated 50,000 viewers worldwide. He needs to raise about $40,000 a month to keep the program on the air.
Keller said he stands by his comments on Romney. As far as he’s concerned, the Mormon religion is a cult.
“His influence as president could lead people to that cult teaching and into hell,” Keller said. “That’s how I feel about him spiritually. Politically, I agree with a lot of the same things he believes in.”
Local Mormon leader Victor Patrick, who serves as president of the Tampa stake, said in a written statement that he was not familiar with Keller or his views on Romney.
“There are about 10,000 members of our church in the Tampa Bay area. I hope that anyone who wants to know about the Latter-day Saints and our doctrine would feel comfortable turning to a Latter-day Saint friend or coworker,” Patrick wrote. “We aspire to be followers of the Savior Jesus Christ and the lives of our local members reflect that aspiration.”
Ahmed Bedier, president of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Human Rights Council, said he’s not surprised by the IRS investigation into Keller’s ministry.
Bedier, former director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has debated Keller on several occasions over the evangelist’s public comments on Islam.
Bedier said Keller seems to enjoy any publicity, even if it’s bad. But making outrageous comments against other faiths will catch up to him one day, Bedier predicted.
“He likes to be on the fringe,” Bedier said. “He doesn’t like to play by the rules. And that’s going to bring him down at some point. I think there’s some divine justice in this whole thing.”