January 30, 2006
The IRS as a Political Tool, Redux
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Remember the Nixon years, when the IRS was let loose to harass and destroy the president's enemies? Well, we're seeing it again under Bush. In 2004, before the election, a liberal-leaning church in California called Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war a "failed doctrine," and urged parishioners to take all they knew about Jesus into the voting booth. The IRS responded by threatening the church with taxation, that it would lose its tax-exempt status and be virtually destroyed by the IRS if it did not apologize and cease any such talk in the future. (Video here.)
Now, frankly, I am against the intervention of any church into political matters. The difference here, however, is one of singling out a liberal church. I mean, if you look at that election, the Catholic church intervened big-time when it made a national call to refuse Kerry communion for his views on abortion--only in the election year, and only Kerry, and not Republican politicians with the same views. Or how about the countless southern churches which are heavily involved in elections, which collect large lists of parishioner voters and send them to the Republican party headquarters, and which regularly offer "voting guides" which condemn stands taken by left-wing politicians and praise the right-wing agenda? As far as I am aware, they do not get this treatment.
In fact, a Baptist pastor in Arkansas praised Bush for his performance while slamming Kerry for his views, while showing photos of both candidates on the church's AV system--the Bush portrait flattering, the photo of Kerry degrading. The IRS declined to investigate or take any action. Furthermore, the progressive church in California which is under siege by the IRS did not endorse either candidate, nor did the man who gave the sermon, who was just a guest speaker and not formally attached to the church. The Arkansas pastor was formally attached to the church and was far more blatant in his politicization. So why leave the Arkansas church alone, and go full-blast after the California church? According to reports, the California church was not even given the usual obligatory initial warning; the IRS came after them, guns blazing, from the very start.
In fact, the IRS has gone after other left-leaning churches as well as the NAACP for political speech, but not Pat Robertson or a host of other tax-exempt conservatives. Even the Catholics, famous for their intervention against Kerry during the 2004 elections, at the very same time called for the IRS to go after a liberal church in Florida. This article demonstrates two churches with heavily political speakers, one liberal (with Bill Clinton), one conservative (with Jerry Falwell and invited Republican representatives)--but only the liberal church was investigated by the IRS. Falwell was not investigated or punished even though he openly endorsed George Bush in a ministry newsletter.
As a principle, I think all churches should be forbidden this kind of political rhetoric. But if the IRS only goes after the churches critical of Bush and ignores the ones condemning Democrats, then what you have is a corrupt and, I believe, illegal state of affairs with the IRS being used as a political weapon.