What's A Church To Do When the IRS Comes A'Calling?

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Imagine showing up for worship and having this message come from the pulpit: "The Internal Revenue Service has notified All Saints church that we are being examined for possible violation of our non-profit status. The IRSís charge is campaign intervention. They have cited a sermon that our rector emeritus, George Regas, preached on the Sunday before the last presidential election. We have engaged a Washington, D.C. law firm specializing in these matters."

The official statement from All Saints continued..."It is important for everyone to understand that the IRSís concerns are not supported by the facts. George Regasís sermon upheld the core values of this church as a Peace Church. We have been a self-identified Peace Church since a resolution was adopted by the Vestry in 1987. The sermon in question explicitly stated, ď I donít intend to tell you how to vote.Ē We at All Saints, of course, will continue from a nonpartisan perspective to teach and proclaim with vigor the core values of Christianity as we stand in the prophetic tradition of Jesus the peacemaker. This is our responsibility as followers of Christ and as Americans who claim our freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

"We will have information available to everyone at church next Sunday. This information will be on our website this week. We will keep you informed at every turn. Pray for our church and pray for our country."

[http://www.allsaints-pas.org/pdf/(10-31-04)%20If%20Jesus%20Debated.pdf;Click this link to read the sermon] (requires Adobe Acrobat)

[http://www.allsaints-pas.org/all_saints_church.htm;Visit the All Saints Church Web Site for the latest information]

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MVPJ steering committee member Eric Sabelman has put together some resources to help us learn about, and if necessary take action over, this IRS investigation.

There have been a great many editorials nationwide on the issue and its Constitutional implications. Among the actions being taken in response is a "National Online Statement of Support" with hundreds of clergypersons' signatures:

[http://interdependencedeclaration.org/allsaints/statement.html]

In the "statement of support" is this paragraph, refering to proposed legislation enabling churches to do any kind of politicking they want:

"...That said, we do not and cannot support H.R. 235, the so-called Houses of Worship Restoration Act, which some now put forward as a remedy for the All Saints matter. This legislation, strongly supported by the Religious Right, goes alarmingly too far. It would allow houses of worship to engage openly in political campaigning and would authorize political endorsements from the pulpit. Parties and candidates could make contributions to houses of worship with the implicit understanding that the houses of worship would then do direct political work on their behalf. Such a law could lead to bitter divisions in our houses of worship along political lines. H.R. 235 would also unfairly advantage religious bodies over other 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations, which would continue to be barred from engaging in electoral activities."

Another reference to this legislation comes from the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network (connected with "The 700 Club")

[http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/news/051209a.asp]

"Politics, Free Speech, and the Church" By Wendy Griffith

..Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina would like to remove all restrictions on political speech in the pulpit. He has introduced, for five
years in a row, The Houses of Worship Freedom Act. Jones declared, 'I think any preacher, priest, rabbi, or cleric in this country should have the First Amendment right to speak freely and preach freely when they go into the pulpit of their church. And I was very upset by the [IRS situation with] this church - which is a more liberal church, and I'm a conservative, I'm more traditional - but no matter what your church is, the preacher, priest, and rabbi must have the freedom to speak.'"

The CBN article does NOT endorse the legislation; rather, it simply reports that both conservative and liberal religious bodies are disturbed by the IRS action.

MORE NEWS STORIES:

[http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-allsaints7nov07,1,7151853,print.story;Click here for an LA Times story]

[http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/25/national/25charity.html?_r=1&oref=slogin;Click here to read] a New York Times story.

[http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=154622,00.html;IRS Official Report on Political Activity Compliance Initiative]

WHAT TO DO? LOUD AND CLEAR IN AN ELECTION YEAR!

MVPJ steering committee member Craig Wiesner recommends the following book:

501(c)3 non-profit organizations (faith-based and secular), clearly have 1st Amendment rights to free speech, but there are limits if one wants to keep their non-profit tax-exempt status. A book worth having is "Loud And Clear In An Election Year" by the Spin Project. It clearly outlines what you can and can not do or say concerning candidates and issues in an election season.

Check your local independent bookstore to buy this book or [http://www.spinproject.org/article.php?id=94;buy it directly from the Spin Project.]


NOTE: Image of hands at the top of this article was taken from the IRS web site.