Mar 16, 2012

Pastors and the IRS bogeyman

 Dr. Jerry Newcombe - Guest Columnist - 3/15/2012

This is a critical election year. Some have said it may be the most important election in our lifetime. With so much at stake, how great it would be to hear from more pastors and priests, during these times when the government encroaches on more of our freedoms.

Some fear that to preach on the moral issues of the day, like abortion or marriage, might be construed as "preaching on politics." But they are moral issues addressed in the Bible. But I recognize that elements of our culture may have turned them into political ones.

I think part of the reason many pastors and priests are unwilling to speak out on "politics" (so-called) is because they fear the loss of their tax-exempt status.

I believe that the perceived threat is far more insidious than the actual threat. The dog's bark is much more prominent than the dog's bite.

I also believe there are some who stoke this fear. For example, Rev. Barry Lynn (a liberal minister) of Americans United for Separation of Church and State sends out letters like clockwork during election years, warning pastors to not say anything too political or he'll be sure to tell the IRS on them.

For example, during the last president election, Barry Lynn sent out a letter with the headline: "Election Season 2008." He stated, "Dear Religious Leader....The First Amendment protects the right of all Americans, religious leaders included, to speak out on religious, moral and political issues." So far so good.

He goes on more ominously: "However, houses of worship…are barred from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office and may not intervene directly or indirectly in partisan campaigns. Any activity designed to influence the outcome of a partisan election can be construed as intervention. If the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention, it can revoke the institution's tax-exempt status or levy significant fines on the hour of worship or its leaders."



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