A June 23 appearance by Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ is now the subject of a formal complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service on August 2.
Portions of the redacted documents obtained by the website UCC Truths, a growing online gathering for dissenters from the church leadership’s rigid left-wing political orthodoxy, were published August 27. Those redacted documents have now been obtained by The American Spectator.
The complaint, addressed to Lois Lerner, the Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service, formally asks the IRS to “investigate the United Church of Christ,” identified in the complaint as “a 501 (3) (c) non-profit religious entity” for violating “federal tax law banning political campaign intervention.” The redaction has blacked out the name of the filer.
The complaint alleges the UCC “violated every single point outlined in the IRS guidelines,” in sponsoring the Illinois Senator’s appearance at the church’s bi-annual national gathering, which this year was held in the Hartford Civic Center in the Connecticut capital. It charges:
* “The United Church of Christ selectively provided the convention facilities for Sen. Obama to speak in support of his campaign.”
* “The United Church of Christ and Sen. Obama referenced his candidacy before and during the speech.”
* “Clear and deliberate campaign activity occurred in connection with the [sic] Sen. Obama’s attendance and speech.”
Specifically the complaint references guidelines that an individual addressing the church does so “only in a non-candidate capacity,” that the individual makes no “mention of his or her candidacy or the election,” and that “no campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance.” The complaint also cites a guideline that prohibits a church from mentioning an individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in “the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.” Both a video and a transcript of Obama’s speech are available on the UCC website and apparently will be present throughout the election.
The complaint is replete with citations and links directly to both the IRS guidelines themselves as well as the transcript of Obama’s speech as presented on the UCC website. Also linked are communications from the UCC in the run-up to the event that focus on Obama’s role not as a Senator but in his capacity as a presidential candidate.
Included with the complaint are photographs of tables set up by campaign volunteers for Obama at the entrance to the Civic Center. The tables are decorated with Obama campaign signs and literature. To further back up the charge of an IRS violation, the complaint links to stories covering the General Synod that were aired by New Haven’s news channel WTNH-TV and written in Christian Century magazine. The news stories described Obama’s UCC-sponsored appearance as a “political convention” and “political rally.”
Now, as the comedienne Joan Rivers liked to say, “Can we talk???” This exact possibility was bearing down on both Obama and the church hierarchy with all the subtlety of a B-52 over Baghdad from the moment Obama announced his presidential candidacy. A UCC member, the Senator had already accepted the church’s invitation to speak, according to the church leadership, well before he changed his mind and entered the race for the White House. At that moment Obama and the UCC had two viable options: cancel Obama’s appearance entirely, or have him appear but talk about something other than his presidential campaign. Effectively thumbing their noses at the IRS, neither option was taken.
AT THE TIME OF THIS INCIDENT I predicted in this space that Obama’s in-your-face decision would doubtless run the risk of just this sort of complaint being filed. As a (politically dissenting) member of the UCC myself, it seemed obvious that drawing the attention of the IRS through a filed complaint would be the inevitable result of mixing a rookie candidate with an arrogant church leadership determined to shut out all dissent. Now, rank-and-file members must endure the public relations black eye of an IRS investigation — and the legal costs to fight it — along with the accompanying threat of the denomination losing its tax-exempt status.
The irony is that IRS complaints of this nature have been lovingly crafted into a science by left-wing activist — and UCC minister — Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Lynn, quite famously, has made much of his tangles with conservative Christians, filing numerous IRS complaints designed to effectively shut down conservative religious activists such as the late Jerry Falwell. The goal, and a very serious goal it is, is to remove the tax-exempt status that the IRS gives to churches.
With the news of the filing of this complaint, both Lynn’s previous actions and his language are turning around to take a bite out of both Obama and the UCC, Lynn’s own denomination. “Falwell is thumbing his nose at the IRS,” Lynn said in September of 2004 as the Bush-Kerry race was heating up. Falwell, Lynn said, “must not be permitted to use a tax-exempt ministry to engage in partisan politics. The vast majority of America’s institutions play by the rules. He should too.” When charges arose that this time it was the liberal UCC and Obama which ran the risk of an IRS complaint, Lynn dismissed the possibility
Strikingly, the language in a Lynn complaint to the IRS against Falwell is close to that in the complaint filed against the UCC.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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H/T to National Review Online