At the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” site, The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writes,
The Internal Revenue Service has notified the United Church of Christ that the IRS has opened an investigation into Senator Barack Obamaâ€™s address at the UCCâ€™s 2007 General Synod. The IRS is accusing the UCC of engaging in â€œpolitical activities.â€
I believe the â€œpolitical activitiesâ€ are on the other foot. The UCC General Synod was in June of 2007, celebrating that denominationâ€™s 50th Anniversary. It is only now fully nine months later, when Senator Obama has become the front-runner in the race for President, that this investigation is launched. Further, the IRS did not contact the UCC or communicate with them while coming to this decision.
I was present when Senator Obama gave this speech at General Synod (along with 10,000 of my closest church friends and neighbors). There were no campaign buttons, signs, electioneering or other such politically related activities. Indeed, the UCC leadership took care to instruct the assembled about the fact that this was a faith event and we were welcoming a member of our church to talk to us about his personal faith in the public square.
The national United Church of Christ is under attack from the IRS, the AP reports, because the church invited one of its members, Barack Obama, to speak at the church’s national conference last summer. The invitation came before Obama had decided to run for president. What’s at stake here is not just religious freedom, but the freedom of speech of all nonprofit groups. The danger is that when nonprofit groups are silenced, corporate America will be able to dominate even more thoroughly the public debate.
The IRS letter to the United Church of Christ is particularly disturbing, threatening to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status. The sole basis for the letter is that Obama gave a June 23, 2007 speech to the church’s members (he was invited before he decided to run for president), and Obama campaign staffers had tables outside the building promoting him. Inside the building, the church actually banned all Obama signs and literature, and announced that it was not a campaign speech.
If this rule is taken literally, it might ban all politicians from speaking at any nonprofit location.
He wasn’t even officially running for President yet. Please. This is nothing but political harassment.