The Other I.R.S. Scandal May 16, 2013

The Other I.R.S. Scandal

***Edit***: This post went up with words clipped and shortened. I’m not sure why, but the intended draft is below. Sorry for the weirdness.

Yesterday, President Obama rightly disciplined two I.R.S. employees for unfairly targeting conservative groups and the IRS’ acting director Steven Miller resigned. Wonderful. I’m glad someone’s taking the fall. (***Edit***: Looking back, it’s unclear what role Miller had in any of this, so while it’s good to see action, this is really more symbolic than anything else.)

However, there’s another scandal that’s been taking place at the IRS and it’s gone completely under the radar.

Last October (and years before that, too), on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” more than 1,500 pastors endorsed a candidate for President during church in complete violation of the law. They did it openly and proudly, people documented them doing it, the material was sent to the I.R.S. … and nothing happened.

An actual church sign

Past of the reason is bureaucracy. A “high-level” employee had to authorize the audits and there was no one around who fit that description. There appeared to be no rush to fill that position, either.

Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains why this is such a big deal:

These activities are not permitted. No tax-exempt, 501(c)(3) organization — religious or non-religious — can engage in behaviors designed to intervene in an election by endorsing or opposing a candidate. This is so because one of the conditions of tax exemption (which is very lucrative benefit) is that the groups holding it must refrain from this type of overt partisan politicking.

But some houses of worship do it anyway. They openly violate the law and even brag about it…

If the IRS wants to be more aggressive and crack down on law-breakers, it need not spend time subjecting Tea Party groups to extra scrutiny because someone decides their names raise red flags or an official frets that they might possibly step over some political lines.

That’s all theoretical. Meanwhile, there are houses of worship breaking the law right now by endorsing or opposing candidates. That’s not theoretical. They are doing it. And they’re doing it openly.

We’re talking about millions of dollars that should not be in the hands of these churches… if only the I.R.S. would do something about it.

If these churches played by the rules, we wouldn’t have this problem, but we know that we can’t count on churches to do the right thing on their own. They have to be monitored. Church/state watchdog groups like AU have already done the work for the I.R.S., but it’s up to the government to take the next step.

Of course, it’d be better if churches were taxed… but in the meantime, if they want to violate the law, they need to pay the price.

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