Sunday, September 28, 2008

Three Cheers for Americans United

Last Wednesday, September 24th, Americans United sent out a press release that read as follows: Houses of worship that flagrantly violate federal tax law by taking part in a Religious Right-led effort to politicize America’s pulpits this Sunday will be promptly reported to the Internal Revenue Service, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a Religious Right legal group based in Arizona, is urging pastors to endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit on Sept. 28, even though IRS regulations forbid tax-exempt groups from intervening in political campaigns. Reportedly, about 30 churches will participate.

“Taking part in this reckless stunt is a one-way ticket to loss of tax exemption,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “We’ll be watching, and pastors who violate the law can expect their churches to be reported to the IRS the first thing Monday morning.”

Since 1996, Americans United has sponsored Project Fair Play, an effort designed to educate religious leaders about the requirements of federal tax law. AU has filed complaints to the IRS about 85 houses of worship and religious non-profits. One church lost its tax exemption, some have been audited and others have received IRS warnings.

Lynn noted that tax exemption is a privilege and it comes with certain limitations.

“Houses of worship exist to enrich people's spiritual lives, not act like political machines that issue marching orders to voters,” Lynn said. “They are tax-exempt because their work is religious and charitable, not political.”

Earlier this month, prominent Washington tax attorneys and former IRS officials Marcus Owens, Mort Caplin and Cono Namorato told the IRS that the ADF’s scheme is a “mass violation of federal tax law” and clearly violates the ethics rules governing practice before the IRS. They called for an IRS investigation and appropriate penalties for the ADF.

Meanwhile, Americans United is circulating a letter to churches advising religious leaders on the rules governing tax-exempt entities and politics. Churches should not participate in the ADF’s “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” scheme if they want to hold on to their tax exemption.

Many clergy have opposed the ADF’s plan for this Sunday.

Archbishop John C. Favalora of Miami released a statement indicating that none of his Catholic churches or priests will participate in the initiative.

The Rev. Eric Williams of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, urged clergy all over America to give sermons in support of church-state separation and against partisan politics in houses of worship.

Americans United’s Web site, http://www.projectfairplay.org/, educates pastors, laypeople and others about the requirements of federal tax law. It also serves as a place to report tax law violations to Americans United.

Added Lynn, “Pastors who are thinking of joining the ADF’s gambit still have time to change their minds and I urge them to do so.”

13 comments:

Anony Mouse said...

Great idea that will never happen at least not in our black churches. If American United goes into a black church and attempts to silence a black preacher on politics it will be the first time. ACORN goes into the black churches regularly promoting the Blue candidate and registering voters even on Sunday mornings. A few members even come back to life to vote! A good attorney would only need to cite these examples to get a charged client off.

It’s no more than idle threats in hopes of scaring a few preachers. It might work somewhat but there are SO many ways around this law it is almost useless.

BAWDYSCOT said...

Useless or not, AU reported 6 churches for just these charges, they are...

Bethlehem Baptist Church, Bethlehem, GA

Fairview Baptist Church, Fairview, OK

Warroad Community Church, Warroad, MN

Cavalry Chapel, Philadelphia, PA

First Southern Baptist Church, Buena Park, CA

New Life Church, West Bend, WI

as reported by AU.

BAWDYSCOT said...

At this moment NPR is having a discussion on this topic with Pastor Gus Booth of the aforementioned Warroad Community Church. His take is this is a bad law. Great, but this make me wonder how Pastor Booth thinks of the crappy immigration laws keeping hard working Christians from coming here. Anybody who knows me knows I feel we have a slew of bad laws on the books, but I have no sympathy for those who want to pick and choose which laws to obey. If you don't like them get them changed.

BTW, Pastor Booth told his congregation, "We need to vote for the most righteous of candidates. And it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out. The most righteous is John McCain."

Now ain't that just ducky.

csm said...

And so Pastor Booth's church should be made to pay taxes.

G said...

Bawdy,

"...which laws to obey. If you don't like them get them changed."

If my understanding is correct, that is the intent of this stunt: violate the law that is considered bad, bait the IRS (with a helping hand from AU) into punishing the participants, and file suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the IRS code.

BAWDYSCOT said...

I have to admit I am somewhat torn by this situation. I am a staunch free speech advocate and am not to enamoured with income taxes, but I have a huge problem with Christians, in particular, wanting to get their views inserted into the federal governmental framework. The Constitutional provisions concerning religion were instituted to protect religion from government(and other religions). Now the Christian right wants to dictate to government and I believe you can't have it both ways. But then again, if we had stuck to our guns and had a limited federal government instead of the monster we have now, this conversation would be on a state level which is where is belongs.

Anony Mouse said...

In the black culture, politics is a regular part of church services much like illegal aliens are a regular part in working the Tobacco fields. Laws broken but we a look the other way.

We all got to hear Jeremiah Wright and all of his political rhetoric from the pulpit. His church continues unrestrained and I bet not one of those churches on the list Bawdyscot is black. America fears Muslims, G&L and more recently the black culture. It is a bad law so I hope it goes to court.

coreydbarbarian said...

me personally, i have no problems with a non-profit group performing voter registration drives or otherwise participating in civic affairs. the problem, as i see it, is when a church or church leader actively endorses or opposes a candidate. most religious leaders are smart enough to know the difference.

that being said, i find the law to be perfectly reasonable/constitutional. even with our increasingly-conservative courts, i am confident that this law will withstand legal challenge.

csm said...

State has no place in a Christian church, at least according to that freak Jesus. So why would preachers want to tell their "flock" how to vote? Because it is more about control than it is about worship and belief in many of these churches. The last thing I want to see is a bunch of mind-washed idiots being told to go vote for John McWorse, even if those churches have to pay taxes.

BAWDYSCOT said...

What if the mind-washed idiots were sent out to vote for Obama?

csm said...

Can't say I'd be happy that mind-washed idiots were being mind-washed to vote for anyone... but I could live with it if they were voting for Obama! Those churches should still be taxed for supporting a political candidate in that fashion, but they should also be encouraged for moving at least one small step toward reason.

Ain't gonna happen that way, though, and we all know it.

Ceroill said...

Check out an article in the latest Salon page, about Religulous, including a short interview with Bill Maher.

csm said...

Saw Bill Maher on The Daily Show. He was funny and crusty, as usual. I'm looking forward to seeing Religulous when it comes out.