U.S. Politics and Churches – the Taxman Cometh

February 27, 2008

CHICAGO – With religion playing its usual prominent role in the lengthy U.S. presidential election campaign, some churches are again finding themselves in trouble with the taxman. 

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service — watchdog for what churches can do and still keep their tax-exempt status — has alerted at least two organizations that they may have crossed the line by engaging in forbidden “political activities.”

The United Church of Christ announced recently that it had received a letter from the IRS that it was  under investigation because of a speech that Senator Barack Obama – Democratic presidential hopeful and a member of that church — gave to its General Synod last year.

Obama spoke to about 10,000 people at the gathering, a few months after he had formally announced as a presidential candidate. The Cleveland-based church said he was one of only 60 speakers and the church did nothing improper or illegal.

Meanwhile the Los Angeles Times reports that the IRS has opened a similar inquiry into the Rev. Wiley Drake, a prominent Southern Baptist preacher in Buena Park, California, because he endorsed Mike Huckabee‘s Republican presidential nomination bid in a written statement on church letterhead and on a church-related Internet radio show.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is also a Southern Baptist preacher.

“Pastors and churches have 1st Amendment rights just like everybody else,” the newspaper quoted Erik Stanley, an attorney as saying. “Wiley Drake has the same right to make a personal endorsement as anybody.”

But the newspaper said the Americans United for Separation of Church and State had blown the whistle on the matter six month ago and asked for an IRS investigation.

Such probes are not new or different. The IRS investigated the liberal All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, for nearly two years because of an anti-war sermon delivered there during the 2004 presidential election campaign.

That probe was finally ended in September with the IRS concluding the church had indeed intervened in the election campaign. But it left its tax-exempt status alone, saying it was convinced the church had policies in place to assure compliance with the law and that the matter was a “one-time occurrence.”

The church later demanded the IRS issue an apology for going after it in the first place.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage

8 comments

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The evidence is there is no basis to tax a non profit, nor the congregation, once gifts are made freely with intent to do good. How arrogant and fascist of our revenue collectors to disallow the education of our people, and for those who have been enlightened to speak their truth.

Posted by pedro | Report as abusive

Tax exempt property is an idea whose time has come and gone. Nothing is free anymore. Why should everyone else shoulder the burden of providing free municipal services to churches, etc. Recent stories have demonstrated that tax exempt organizations have huge resources, but the rest of us continue to pay for them. It’s not right and has to change.

Posted by ubumoi | Report as abusive

Top 10 Reasons John McCain should not be the Republican presidential nominee.

Number 10 – McCain has to get “permission” from the big wig party bosses who sit in their luxury rooms smoking cigars, counting their money and their power before he is allowed to say anything.

Number 9 – McCain was not born in America and technically not allowed to become US President.

Number 8 – All the true conservatives are not supporting him. Dr. James Dobson endorsed Huckabee not McCain.

Number 7 – McCain wants to water down or eliminate the Federal Marriage act between one man and one woman.

Number 6 – McCain does not actively support pro-life causes. He only reluctantly does when forced too.

Number 5 – The McCain-Fiengold law that he pushed thru to become law restricts him from spending any more on campaigning so he will not be able to campaign against Obama in the general election.

Number 4 – McCain will have not power in the White House because he is not allowed to make decisions. Look at Bill Cunnigham incident the big wigs wanted him to rough away red meat to the crowd even though McCain didnt want to. Who’s in control of his campaign??

Number 3 – McCain does not want to seal the border. The biggest threat to American security is the border, anyone can walk in with anything they want.

Number 2 – McCain’s speeches are just a tad more exciting than boring falling a sleep Fred Thompson. The crowds are watching the new paint dry on the wall at his speeches than listening to him bore the crowd.

And Number 1 – McCain is just too old. He will not be able to compete against the 46 year old Obama on his firepower. If elected he will be the oldest president ever. Plus his courseness of “Get out the way, I’m doing it my way” cursing speeches seems like he maybe losing it somewhat.

Mike Huckabee is the only true conservative that will lead America up to higher ground. With his energetic charismatic humble speeches, he can go toe to toe with Obama, humor you, and create a new American spirit the world can rally around.

Posted by Giant Robot | Report as abusive

You can read the actual complaint sbmitted to the IRS here: http://www.ucctruths.com/irs.pdf

The specific allegations revolve around the three main criteria established by the IRS which are pretty simple to understand: If you are going to have a candidate speak as a non-candidate, the church cannot make a reference to their candidacy in any way, the candidate cannot mention they are a candidate and there can be no campaigning related to the speech – all of which happened in this instance and all of which are well documented in the complaint to the IRS. The UCC web site had numerous references to Obama being a candidate leading up to his appearence, the speech included references to his candidacy and there was active campaigning with 40 volunteers at the entrance to the Hartford Civic Center before, during and after his speech. Following his speech, the campaign volunteers were led into the Civic Center so they could get pictures with Obama. To make matters worse, UCC leaders should have known the content of Obama’s speech since he gave nearly the same speech a week earlier to the Iowa Conference of the UCC.

Posted by Drew | Report as abusive

The IRS absolutely must carefully watch the churches. They cannot be trusted to keep a “clean house” when it comes to politics or illegal aliens!
Many very well should lose tax exempt status!
These monies would help pay the cost of deportation of illegal residents and more ICE teams!

Posted by Hombre Viejo | Report as abusive

The IRS must continue to watch churches for issues dealing with separation of church and state. A number of years ago, the “Reverend” Richard Butler and his Church of Jesus Christ Christian and Aryan Nations set themselves up in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Besides preaching about Christ, he also taught anti-Semitism and racism. Many of the people in Northern Idaho, as well as the State, took a stand against his hateful preaching. The State’s unofficial motto during those years was “Idaho is too great for Hate”. Now we are hearing about “Minister” Louis Farrakhan, his church and the Nation of Islam. Minister Farrakhan is known for his anti-Semitism and racist teachings, as well as his reasonable Muslim teachings. Why haven’t people taken a stand against his hateful and racist preachings?! Our churches should not be tax- exempt and be allowed to promote racism and bigotry.

Also, it is reasonable for Rev. Wiley Drake’s church to be investigated because he used church property in a political endorsement. But many other churches, while not “officially endorsing” a political candidate, are preaching from their church property about their favored candidate while using the candidate’s name so in essence the speaker is giving a political endorsement all the while “not endorsing” the said candidate. Our American churches should not be tax-exempt while church leaders promote their choice of political candidate by influencing their church members votes. If church leaders are preaching church doctrine at their meetings and the members share those beliefs, then the members will pick the policital candidate that best fits them.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

Churches have a lot of trouble with money. Our church witheld money from the Episcopal Church when they got so liberal and there are a lot of churches like it. The churches do a lot of good with their money.

Posted by Pam Roach | Report as abusive

I happen to be an Episcopalian as well… in a liberal diocese and boy am I glad about THAT:) Not one word about elections have I heard EVER from the pulpit on any political candidate.

Posted by Sherry | Report as abusive