So Not Surprising

CapitolBuzz reports that the IRS is threatening a liberal church with revoking its tax-exempt status because the minister gave an antiwar sermon during the last election.

Meanwhile, during the same time, the Republican National Committee was employing the services of Texas-based Christian activist and vice-chairman of the Texas RNC, David Barton, who believes the United States is a Christian nation and the separation of church and state is a myth. He earned at least $12,000 last year from the RNC for “political consulting.” During the presentations he gave, coordinated by the RNC’s evangelical outreach director, Drew Ryun, Barton would contend “that the IRS allows pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit as long as they make it clear it’s their own personal opinion and not an official church endorsement” and pass out a letter from the IRS “explaining what ministers are able to say and do, legally, in their churches.”

That letter explicitly states:

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code that are exempt from federal income tax are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office… [U]nder Federal law tax-exempt charitable organizations are prohibited from endorsing any candidates, making donations to their campaigns, engaging in fund-raising, distributing statements, or becoming involved in any other activities that may be beneficial or detrimental to any candidate. Even activities that encourage people to vote for or against a particular candidate on the basis of nonpartisan criteria violate the political campaign prohibition of section 501(c)(3).
During the sermon in question, the rector, George Regas, noted that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not endorse either candidate. He said that Jesus would have been against the war in Iraq. While one may agree or disagree with Regas’ conclusion, it doesn’t come close to violating the IRS statute. (Unless they are claiming that his interpretation of scripture, which lead him to believe Jesus would be antiwar, constitutes an involvement in an activity that may be detrimental to a candidate, in which case, I’m sure they’re gearing up to go after every minister who has claimed God would support a ban on gay marriage.)

So now the church is being threatened with losing their tax-exempt status, while the RNC had on its payroll someone who went around giving luncheon lectures on how conservative ministers could avoid a similar fate by narrowly construing the statute and avoid censure by technicality. It’s only my personal endorsement of Bush, not the church’s. Unbelievable. But so not surprising.

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