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So much for separation of church & state


BuckyXTC
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Now the Bushies are taking steps which can jeopardize the tax exempt status of churches by trying to inject them into the political campaign.

 

Here's the story from the Houston Chronicle. The outrageous continues.

 

 

Bush pushing for religious campaigning

 

Churchgoers urged to get political

By ALAN COOPERMAN

Washington Post

 

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WASHINGTON -- The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

 

Campaign officials said the instructions are part of an accelerating effort to mobilize President Bush's base of religious supporters. They said the suggested activities are intended to help churchgoers rally support for Bush without violating tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity. "We strongly believe that our religious outreach program is well within the framework of the law," said Terry Holt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman.

 

But tax experts said the campaign is walking a fine line between permissible activity by individuals and impermissible activity by congregations. Supporters of Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, charged that the Bush-Cheney campaign is luring churches into risking their tax status. "I think it is sinful of them to encourage pastors and churches to engage in partisan political activity and run the risk of losing their tax-exempt status," said Steve Rosenthal, chief executive officer of America Coming Together, a group working to defeat Bush.

 

The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 "duties" to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your church directory to your state Bush-Cheney '04 headquarters or give (it) to a BC04 field rep" and "talk to your pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and voter registration drive."

 

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush-Cheney '04" and "recruit five more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush-Cheney campaign." By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with members, and in October they are to "finish calling all pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing voter guides in your church" and place notices on bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."

 

A spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service, Frank Keith, said, "It would be inappropriate for the IRS, based on a limited set of facts and circumstances, to render a judgment about whether the activities in this document would or would not endanger a church's tax-exempt status."

 

He pointed out that the IRS on June 10 sent a strongly worded letter to both the Republican and Democratic national committees, reminding them that tax-exempt charitable groups "are prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office."

 

That warning came one week after The Washington Post and other news media reported on a Bush-Cheney campaign e-mail that sought to identify 1,600 "friendly congregations" in Pennsylvania where Bush supporters "might gather on a regular basis."

 

The IRS letter noted that religious organizations are allowed to sponsor debates, distribute voter guides and conduct voter registration drives. But if those efforts show "a preference for or against a certain candidate or party ... it becomes a prohibited activity," the letter said.

 

Milton Cerny, a tax specialist in the Washington office of the law firm Caplin & Drysdale who formerly administered tax-exempt groups for the IRS, said there is nothing in the campaign instructions "that on its face clearly would violate" the law.

 

"But these activities, if conducted in concert with the church or church leadership, certainly could be construed by the IRS as the church engaging in partisan electioneering," he said. "The devil is in the details."

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In the African American community the church is THE center for political organization, mobilization, and registration. No problem with it, but lets be fair and balanced: both sides use the church.

Not opinion, just the facts.

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Having worked in campaigns before, my experience has been that African-American churches and ministers are sophisticated enough to know what kinds of activities are permissible and which aren't under the IRS regulations that grant tax-exempt status to religious organizations.

 

Churches can legally organize non-partisan voter registration drives. Ministers can urge congregants to vote, and they can discuss the issues of the day in sermons, pointing out how certain positions may support or conflict with the beliefs of the particular congregation. Churches CANNOT endorse candidates or engage in specifically partisan activities without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. The Bush campaign's activities could endanger this status for many churches which are less politically sophisticated than most African-American churches are.

 

Let's remember that the tax-exempt status of the Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs has been challenged. Bush's personal lobbying of the Pope to get all (not just some) of the U.S. Catholic bishops "on his side" won't help the case of the diocese. Neither will the other activities by his campaign help other churches that subsequently find themselves in trouble with the IRS. But what do they care? By the time the churches lose their tax-exempt status, the Bush operatives will either be long gone, or back in power for a second term with nothing to lose if the churches get screwed.

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