Friday, August 25, 2006

Religious Free Speech

The Wall Street Journal today editorializes about IRS investigations of church involvement in politics:
When the Rev. George F. Regas delivered a sermon opposing the Iraq War in All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., two days before the 2004 presidential election, he expected to upset a few members of the congregation. Instead, he seems to have upset the Internal Revenue Service, which began an investigation that is still under way.
Further, the IRS is going to be pro-active in investigating church activities:
The IRS has also announced it will no longer wait for complaints to come in, but will instead take action "to prevent violations." It will be reviewing the content of sermons, it says, as well as the financial books of religious organizations.
Can a church take a position on abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research, or any other political issue that may be central to a political campaign without falling under the scrutiny of the IRS?

This IRS action takes place under the authority of tax statutes, not a Constitutional mandate and so Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina has proposed legislation to protect churches from this kind of intrusive investigation.

Of course the BJC opposes that legislation. [See "An Overview of Activity by the Baptist Joint Committee, p. 2, distributed to SDB churches this spring].


  1. Anonymous1:25 PM

    Interesting the the IRS shows no interest in churches that are used for Democratic candidates to stump from.

  2. Actually, I think the man in the article would be classified as someone who was not for President Bush, if his position in the article was in fact that his sermon was against the war.

    I have a ton of questions about this article that I don't see answers for...I might have to go looking some more...but among the larger questions are:

    1.) Is it content or name dropping that got this man in trouble? (For example, can I preach about peace as long as I don't talk about the current war? I'm not suggesting that it's right to be able to speak in abstractions where there is a clear concrete example, I just want to be clear about what sorts of topics are allowed or not.)

    2.) How is the IRS not subject to the same kinds of curtails of power that the rest of the government is subject to. The choice of the IRS to investigate this kind of things seems to indicate that the churches are free to do and say whatever they way, as long as they are willing to pay to make that opinion known. If what I've suggested is the case, I find it difficult to imagine the IRS would be exempt from litigation on the basis of the protections afforded assemblies and individuals under the Bill of Rights (and especially the First Amendment.) I have more questions, but that will do for now.


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