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Church in Trouble for Politics?
September 16, 2006 1:10 PM   Subscribe

A Pasadena Church is being investigated for preaching an anti-war sermon. And methinks, would it have had no trouble at all if it was pro-war, instead?
posted by paladin (36 comments total)

 
"There is a lot at stake here," Bacon said. "If the IRS prevails, it will have a chilling effect on the practice of (liberal) religion in America."

i.e.: what the poster said.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2006


In related news -- Anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue West, loses tax status.
posted by ericb at 1:14 PM on September 16, 2006


And methinks, would it have had no trouble at all if it was pro-war, instead?

The IRS is actually cracking down on religious organizations electioneering on both sides of the political spectrum, going so far as creating a special task force, which has investigated at least 82 organizations and found at least 60 violations.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:22 PM on September 16, 2006


Generally I'm all for anything that messes with organized Churches, but correct me if I'm wrong, isn't preaching peace one of the more common tenets in the major religions today?

I can understand if the guy was using his pulpit to tell his congregation "vote for Kerry", but it sounds like this was explicitly not what he was doing.

Tax-exempt organizations are barred from intervening in political campaigns and elections.


I may be mistaken, but weren't there tons of church groups that supported Bush in the last election?
posted by quin at 1:28 PM on September 16, 2006


On posting: Ah monju_bosatsu, I did not know that. Thanks.
posted by quin at 1:29 PM on September 16, 2006


Why now? Why did they wait 2 years? Is this cover for all the electioneering going on now? What's the deal?

Doesn't this tell churches that they're safe to do it and won't be investigated until way way way after the fact? It's a big part of the GOP strategy--an official part.
posted by amberglow at 1:47 PM on September 16, 2006


and from Feb 06: In N.C., GOP Requests Church Directories
posted by amberglow at 1:49 PM on September 16, 2006


From 04: The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives. ...
posted by amberglow at 1:50 PM on September 16, 2006


The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives. ...

How is that legal?
posted by Mr_Zero at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2006


and Dobson is publicly doing it this year
posted by amberglow at 1:53 PM on September 16, 2006


It's legal if they stay non-partisan and don't only distribute GOP materials and issue guides, and if they refrain from endorsing candidates or parties from the pulpits or pressuring parishioners to register for only one party, i believe.
posted by amberglow at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2006


And if a private citizen hands over a church directory to the GOP that's totally legal.
posted by amberglow at 1:55 PM on September 16, 2006


Newsflash: Jesus wouldn't have supported this (or any) war!
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:00 PM on September 16, 2006


Newsflash: Jesus wouldn't have supported this (or any) war!
posted by Kickstart70 at 2:00 PM PST on September 16 [+] [!]


WWJB?
posted by kosher_jenny at 2:19 PM on September 16, 2006


Who Would Jesus Bone? Isn't that a bit off topic?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:23 PM on September 16, 2006


Fortunately, this is still OK:
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
posted by orthogonality at 2:27 PM on September 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


Was the gas in the fuel tanks of the buses that churches sent to the polls in 2004 tax deductable?
posted by breakfast_yeti at 2:43 PM on September 16, 2006


This is such an old story. It's not as though George Rigas did anything wrong, he was simply reported on, just as many pastors from many denominations and political viewpoints are every year.

But the penalties for being found guilty of politicking are not very severe. The church loses its tax-exempt status, then it is not allowed to operate for one year. In such time, the church can re-form under a different name with the same pastor.

There are some excellent resources to know more, especially the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
posted by parmanparman at 3:18 PM on September 16, 2006


I've worked/volunteered for a few campaigns, so I can try to explain this:

It's legal for a GOP (or Democratic) volunteer to distribute literature and such at church (or maybe outside the church, if you want to be picky), if both parties are allowed to do so. Once a minister or employee of the church starts distributing partisan literature (or favoring one party over the other), it's probably illegal.

However, there's an old, big loophole of "voter guides", where a non-profit organization lists all the candidates, and the candidates' positions on important issues. If the guide is being distributed by a conservative group/church, the guide is probably going to focus on issues that push conservative buttons (abortion, gay marriage, taxes), while a guide distributed by a liberal group/church will probably focus on traditionally liberal issues like labor rights and enironmentalism. Voter guides are pretty easy to slant.

Properly run voter registration drives are always considered non-partisan, because it's illegal for someone running a drive to refuse to register a qualified voter. (In other words, Republican-leaning churches can't refuse to register a Democract, or vice versa.) All partisan groups can do to slant registration drives is to pre-select the audience, which is what the GOP is doing here -- they assume GOP volunteers go to conservative churches, so they encourage volunteers to organize a church drive. The Democrats do the same thing with liberal churches.

(As someone who's worked on Democrat-funded voter registration drives, I can tell you the easiest way to discourage Republican registrations: Say "I'm from the Democratic Party! Would you like to register to vote?" The Republicans usually run away from me in disgust and fear. Once, I had a guy spit on the ground in front of me.)
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 4:13 PM on September 16, 2006


Church's should clearly never get our tax money. Period. They should be able to say exactly what they want but never ever get our damn money. Why do they get a free ride?
posted by markulus at 6:35 PM on September 16, 2006


They shouldn't get our tax money, but they should pay taxes like everyone else who owns land--that's the real racket.
posted by amberglow at 7:03 PM on September 16, 2006


The article that monju_bosatsu linked to in his above comment is still very short on detail, and as such is not a particularly compelling piece of evidence against paladin's "methinks" editorial in the original post.

From the article: "Citing "taxpayer privacy rights," the IRS did not identify any of the churches or charities or specify the violations. But the report said the violations it investigated covered "the full spectrum" of political ideology."

Such words of assurance from the special IRS task force (not an independent 3rd party, but simply part of the IRS) that everyone is getting the same treatment... well, sounds like more of the by-now familiar "hey, just trust us" to me.

Also, I think the distinction between clearly partisan electioneering from the pulpit and more general expressions of antiwar sentiment from the pulpit are getting a bit blurred here.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:35 PM on September 16, 2006


Eh, I have a hard time seeing how either churches paying taxes or "a chilling effect on the practice of religion in America" could possibly be bad things.

BTW, I know a few people from the local UU church, and I was surprised to learn that 1) it's structured as a true non-profit, not a tax-exempt religious organization and 2) it pays property tax. While I've no interest in attending, I do find a church that isn't expecting special treatment a refreshing change of pace.
posted by boaz at 9:43 PM on September 16, 2006


They shouldn't get our tax money, but they should pay taxes like everyone else who owns land--that's the real racket.

Amberglow, churches pay taxes for all land that is not designated as the primary worship area. So they pay for the parking lot, administrative outbuildings, and offsite locations. I know of a church in Texas that cleverly got around paying taxes for a parking lot by installing a meditation area around the bordering area.
posted by parmanparman at 10:31 PM on September 16, 2006


It never fails to amaze me how today's conservative Christians don't understand that the separation of church and state exists to protect them just as much as it exists to protect godless heathens.
posted by Skwirl at 11:40 PM on September 16, 2006


This is hardly breaking news -- here's an NPR piece on the IRS and churches from Dec, 2005, which focused on the Pasedena church. Also, here is the sermon that sparked all this, again from NPR.
posted by ph00dz at 5:06 AM on September 17, 2006


It's not just leftish churches that are being investigated. I use space at a local church for meetings, the bishop warned us that we had to make sure we didn't do any political speech because they could lose their tax exempt status. In 2004 this particular church did everything short of telling their members they'd burn in Hell if they voted Democrat.
posted by substrate at 6:35 AM on September 17, 2006


Skwirl, the religious right doesn't want protection for anyone else. The only religion they really want protection for is their own.
posted by lhauser at 9:08 AM on September 17, 2006


the separation of church and state exists to protect them just as much as it exists to protect godless heathens.

Well, sure, but it's not the highest goal of every person to be protected by the state. The same anti-nanny state feeling that drug and helmet laws arouse in casual drug users and motorcycle riders are surely felt by christians toward the practice of their religion.
posted by boaz at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2006


The idea that there are (at least) two different Americas is becoming more and more pervasive to me. I just don't know where I can move to in order to join the liberal community.

I'm torn between two worlds actually. I'm not particularly liberal either. I'm afraid in the next several years as these two extremes continue to polarize this country, there won't be a place for me to move to that I will accept or that will accept me. At present I've been satisfied just hiding in plain sight, but I fear a day soon where we're all going to be forced to make a choice. I never like the options when I'm forced to make a choice.

Join the Christian Fascists or the Godless Heathens. Well, as Billy Joel was once fond of saying, only the good die young.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:21 AM on September 17, 2006


I'm afraid ... there won't be a place for me to move to that I will accept or that will accept me.

Hey, Holland ain't bad. For example.

as Billy Joel was once fond of saying, only the good die young.

Yeah, Billy's getting old, too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2006


The idea that there are (at least) two different Americas is becoming more and more pervasive to me. I just don't know where I can move to in order to join the liberal community.

Persuasive, not pervasive, I think.

Anyway, yes, there are clearly at least two Americas. Surely to gods even all you Americans recognize that!

The biggest split is between north and south. Your southern states are, on the whole, completely freakin' looney-ville. Seriously, there is no nuttier quasi-Christian chunk of the world than those areas where the South Baptist/Evangel/Megachurch zombies thrive.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:59 AM on September 17, 2006


Er, not to cast aspersions on anyone on MeFi. Understand I'm talking about a stereotype/character type/demographic that isn't likely a fan of these here Internets, and certainly not the kind of free-thinking, bullshitting, profane dialogue we get around here.

I'm sure those folk hold me in equally low regard.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:45 PM on September 17, 2006


All churches ought to lose tax exempt status, but I'd settle for just those who preach war, anti-abortion, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:05 AM on September 21, 2006


Churches that preach war just lose hell-exempt status.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:12 AM on September 21, 2006


it's not either-or, zach--many of us "Godless Heathens" actually have religion and morals and values too, and they're a lot more humane and certainly more American than the people who label us as "Godless Heathens." I'd say your first step would be to stop believing their lies about everyone who's not them. And then find a cool city to live in.
posted by amberglow at 3:50 PM on September 21, 2006


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