Dear Senator Obama:
Our common denomination, the United Church of Christ, has a suddenly serious legal and financial problem with the Internal Revenue Service. You, personally, are the cause of this problem. Candidly? I think you owe it to those of us who are your fellow congregants to help repair the damage that you have done.
As you know, on June 23, 2007, you gave a speech to the United Church of Christ’s General Synod during our church’s 50th anniversary celebration in Hartford, Connecticut. The invitation was extended well before you became a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. You are one of us, and while I disagree with you politically and could not be in Hartford, certainly I initially thought the idea of inviting you to speak was a good one. Contrary to the image our denominational leaders seek to promote, all members of our church are not liberals, and certainly I am not. Yet as a conservative I believe the exchange of ideas is what America is all about.
Everything changed with your formal announcement that you were running for president. Instantly your potential appearance posed a problem for the UCC, as the IRS has quite specific rules regulating the appearance of political candidates campaigning in front of church audiences. The rules are the result of an amendment to the tax code in 1954 by then-Senator from Texas Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic leader of the Senate. This law was, per Jill “J.R.” Labbe, the deputy editorial page editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, payback against “two non-profits in Texas that were actively campaigning against” LBJ’s re-election to the Senate. At the instigation of the UCC’s own Reverend Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, various Christian conservatives have been penalized financially by the IRS for crossing over this line laid down by the Johnson law, most notably the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. While it is troubling that neither you nor the UCC expressed the slightest concern when a conservative’s freedom of speech was being repressed, this episode inadvertently opens a chance for everyone to come together on the basic issue of freedom of expression by supporting a repeal of the LBJ law, a law that clearly is about nothing more than intimidating people of faith into silence.
Be that as it may, the LBJ law is in place. It is the law, and the IRS must enforce the rules, taking the same approach to the UCC that the UCC’s own Reverend Lynn insisted be taken with Jerry Falwell and other conservatives. The moment your status as a candidate changed, both you and the UCC had two options. One, you could have gracefully refused the invitation, citing the Johnson law and your candidacy. Or the church could simply have withdrawn the invitation to you on the same grounds. Two, the church could have easily complied with the IRS rules under the Johnson law by simply inviting your competitors for the Democratic nomination. Yes, you would have been sharing the spotlight, but under the circumstances that shouldn’t have been too much to ask of you.p>In the event, neither of these options — withdrawal or inviting other candidates — was taken. And so you went to Hartford. Almost immediately you violated IRS rules, discussing your presidential candidacy from what, under the circumstances, meets the legal definition of a pulpit. Addressing some 10,000 of our religious brethren you said: br> /p>
“It’s been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I’ve had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country. And I’ve found that no matter where I am, or who I’m talking to, there’s a common theme that emerges. It’s that folks are hungry for change — they’re hungry for something new. They’re ready to turn the page on the old politics and the old policies — whether it’s the war in Iraq or the health care crisis we’re in, or a school system that’s leaving too many kids behind despite the slogans.”br> Further on, you said this: br>
“I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premiums by up to $2,500 a year.”br> The statement on health care is what’s known in the trade as a campaign promise, and you made it from a UCC pulpit. p>Senator, your campaign has now released a statement saying that you had only spoken about your “personal spiritual journey” at the UCC General Synod that day and were not campaigning for president. This is just not true. As if the exact quotes from your speech cited above do not show this to be considerably less than truthful, this decidedly was not what your campaign was saying before you delivered your speech. Quite specifically, the UCC website quoted your campaign officials as follows: br>
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