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Double Standards

29 February, 2008

From The Carpetbagger Report

Federal tax law, as it relates to tax-exempt religious ministries, is pretty clear — houses of worship may not legally intervene in political campaigns, either in support of or opposition to a candidate or a party. Those who violate the law run th risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

What’s less clear is why the IRS has decided to launch this specific investigation. The closer one looks, the more unusual this appears.

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating the United Church of Christ, saying the denomination may have threatened its tax-free status by allowing Sen. Barack Obama to speak before thousands of members at a church conference in June.

A lawyer for the church denied that the denomination, or Sen. Obama, who is a UCC member, engaged in any political activity when he and others spoke before an audience of 10,000 at the church’s 50th anniversary celebration in Hartford, Conn.

A spokesman for the Obama campaign, Tommy Vietor, said the candidate “spoke to his church’s convention about his personal spiritual journey…. This was not a campaign event.”

While investigations of individual congregations are not uncommon, for the IRS to go after an entire 1.2 million-member denomination is rather extraordinary.

Indeed, for the IRS to take such an unusual step, one might assume that the UCC’s conduct must have been extraordinarily controversial. But therein lies the rub: by all appearances, the UCC didn’t come close to running afoul of tax law.

Remember, the law says a ministry can’t “intervene” in a campaign. So, what happened in this case? The United Church of Christ, like many Protestant denominations, held an annual meeting. The UCC invited Obama, the Christian church’s most high-profile member, to speak about his perspective on the role of faith in public life, which he did.

Did Obama use his appearance as a campaign event? No. Did UCC officials use the opportunity to endorse his campaign? No. Did anything happen at the conference that amounted to “intervention” in a political campaign? Not as far as I can tell.

What we’re left with is an awkward set of circumstances — in an election year, the Bush administration’s IRS is investigating a liberal denomination for allowing the Democratic frontrunner to give a non-partisan speech. I’m hesitant to jump to the disconcerting conclusion — this investigation is politically motivated and intended to intimidate left-leaning religious leaders — but the evidence against the UCC in this matter is so thin, it’s hard not to question what prompted this investigation.

What’s worse, it wouldn’t be the first time questions very similar to these have come up.

It would be an outrageous abuse of power for the IRS to go after an entire religious denomination based on partisan political concerns, but given what we’ve seen of the Bush gang, it’s hard to offer the administration much in the way of benefit of the doubt.

During Watergate, we learned that Nixon used the IRS to harass and intimidate political opponents. Let’s hope this isn’t a repeat of the same abuse.

So the speeches that other candidates have given in churches and church conventions and meeting — Huckabee, McCain and Romney come to mind — will also result in investigations of those religious organizations, right?  Or maybe Bush’s IRS is apologizing for having to investigate that moron over in California with the death threats agains AU. 

Why hasn’t this been on the national news?  Why isn’t this in the newspapers?  The IRS has apparently decided that the tax laws are applied with extreme strictness if a church convention or meeting invites a Democratic candidate, but no a Republican.  Sheesh.

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7 comments

  1. Looks like someone beat me to this topic. Well done. You also saved me some time. 😉


  2. Alexander: please, post on your site. I’m sure that you will be able to tear the logic (?) of the IRS’s position to shreds.


  3. This wouldn’t happen is churches weren’t tax exempt- then they could do whatever they liked and not have to be an arm of the fed.


  4. The Rethuglicans are still playing their old tricks.


  5. Samuel: welcome to my blog. I agree wholeheartedly. It would also help the local and national tax base.


  6. Wow, the IRS could be busy for months looking into every Souther Baptist Church Huckabee has spoken in. They would probably have to start a special task force just on Huckabee. This is totally partisan politics, especially when you have religious leaders like Hagee, Dobson, and Robertson falling all over themselves for Republicans, you can’t convince me that they don’t tell their congregations that the GOP platform is Jesus’ platform.


  7. Sure thing. I’ll put something together sometime this month or so. I am sure this won’t be the only time we hear about this. Oh, and I like the new look.



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