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IRS probes politics at church


Benevolent Dictator
DP Veteran
May 19, 2004
Reaction score
Political Leaning
Libertarian - Right
Source: Herold.com

The IRS has notified a Liberty City church that it is under investigation for possibly engaging in political activity -- putting its tax-exempt status into question.

The probe is related to an appearance last October by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and several black leaders, including U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The reason for the investigation, an IRS official wrote in a 10-page letter obtained by The Herald, is that ``a reasonable belief exists that Friendship Missionary Baptist Church has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church.''

Rev. Gaston Smith took a break from the revelry and worship of Palm Sunday services to inform the congregation about the inquiry. He said visits by political candidates are nothing new, and that the 75-year-old church did not violate U.S. tax code, as suggested in the letter. He has hired former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis to defend the church in the inquiry.

''This is not about politics. It's about principles,'' Smith said. Silence fell over the congregation as he spoke.

The inquiry raises serious questions about whether the predominantly black church can keep its tax-exempt status. If it fails, members and contributors could not deduct tithes and other gifts, upon which churches heavily rely to operate.
This is not the only church under investigation. The NAACP is still being investigated as well.
This also isn't the first time this kind of thing has happened. There was the case of Branch Ministries vs. Rossotti. Branch Ministries placed a two page ad in USA Today and the Washington Post urging folks not to vote for Clinton in '92. The IRS removed their tax exempt status and that was held in abeyance until the decision was given but finally enforced.

What church leaders can't do
All Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) organizations (including churches) are "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." (IRS Pub.1828) As it did in 1992, 1996 and 2000, the IRS issued an election year advisory this past April reminding 501(c)(3) organizations of this prohibition. So what does this mean? Simply put, your church organization cannot endorse or oppose any political candidate at any level of the organization. This means from the pulpit, in the newsletter, on the church Web site, at any church sponsored event, etc. This prohibition includes:
Campaigning for or against a candidate.
Raising funds for a candidate.
Contributing to a political action committee (PAC) to aid a candidate.
Granting the use of the church name to endorse a candidate.
Using church funds or equipment to support a candidate's campaign.

In my humble opinion, we've got two rights competing against each other. We've got free speech and "separation of church and state". As such, we should remove the tax exempt 501(c)(3) status, give the churches a 501(c)(4) status should they follow those, otherwise, they operate under normal business tax laws should they want to turn a profit. Then allow free speech within the churches.
Religion is religion and politics is politics and never the twain shall meet. If they do, the result will be chaotic.

Shall we have churches, synagogues, and mosques which resemble the local Democratic or Republican clubs? Churches now split over matters of faith or morals. Just think of how much more internal dissention would be created if churches begin endorsing candidates.
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