I sat down a few hours ago to pen a diary about the chill wind the IRS is sending the way of pastors who would preach against the Iraq war (or anything else the Bush crowd supports like, say… torture). Cali Scribe beat me to it with an excellent post, “IRS Threatens Church for Anti-War Sermon.”
But the IRS is demonstrating real hypocracy here, so I decided to post this anyway with an altered introduction because I think it serves as an good companion piece to the one Cali Scribe wrote.
How odd that the IRS would suddenly become so vigorous in equating dissent against the war with “intervening in a political campaign” against the backdrop of an administration that has openly encouraged tax-exempt religious groups and churches to intervene in political campaigns on behalf of George W. Bush.
Back on June 3, 2004 The New York Times ran an article, Bush Campaign Seeks Help From Congregations. It revealed a far from subtle campaign by the White House to enlist churches to become extensions of the Bush re-election campaign:
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK June 3, 2004 NYT
The Bush campaign is seeking to enlist thousands of religious congregations around the country in distributing campaign information and registering voters, according to an e-mail message sent to many members of the clergy and others in Pennsylvania.
Liberal groups charged that the effort invited violations of the separation of church and state and jeopardized the tax-exempt status of churches that cooperated…
…Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush administration, said “people of faith have as much right to participate in the political process as any other community” and that the e-mail message was about “building the most sophisticated grass-roots presidential campaign in the country’s history.”
In the message, dated early Tuesday afternoon, Luke Bernstein, coalitions coordinator for the Bush campaign in Pennsylvania, wrote: “The Bush-Cheney ’04 national headquarters in Virginia has asked us to identify 1,600 `Friendly Congregations’ in Pennsylvania where voters friendly to President Bush might gather on a regular basis.”
In each targeted “place of worship,” Mr. Bernstein continued, without mentioning a specific religion or denomination, “we’d like to identify a volunteer who can help distribute general information to other supporters.” He explained: “We plan to undertake activities such as distributing general information/updates or voter registration materials in a place accessible to the congregation.”
…The campaign’s effort is the latest indication of its heavy bet on churchgoers in its bid for re-election. Mr. Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, and officials of Mr. Bush’s campaign have often said that people who attended church regularly voted for him disproportionately in the last election, and the campaign has made turning out that group a top priority this year…
What was striking about the Pennsylvania e-mail message was its directness… The Bush campaign… appeared to be reaching out directly to churches and church members, seeking to distribute campaign information as well as ostensibly nonpartisan material, like issue guides and registration forms (italics added).
Trevor Potter, a Washington lawyer and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said the campaign’s solicitation raised delicate legal issues for congregations.
“If the church is doing it, it is a legal problem for the church,” Mr. Potter said. “In the past, the I.R.S. has sought to revoke and has succeeded in revoking the tax-exempt status of churches for political activity.”…
Back when all of this was going on, a former IRS administrator opined that the Bush efforts to recruit churches as instruments of the campaign contained nothing “that on its face clearly would violate” the law. Apparently the IRS agreed or we surely would have heard about it.
Nor have we heard about it if Richard Land incurred the wrath of the IRS like Reverend Regas’ anti-war sermon did
Bush’s crusader for church and state
David Rennie in Kansas City (Filed: 21/08/2004)
Richard Land, a leading Texas churchman, has only to shoot out his cuffs to prove that he is an old friend of President George W Bush. His cufflinks bear the presidential seal, a gift from Mr Bush, and the badge of a Washington insider.
Mr Land’s message for the world is that, in terms of religion, the gulf between America and Western Europe is widening. European Christians occupy the political margins. In the US they are in the thick of it.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics and religious liberty commission
…Mr Land is determined that Christian conservatives should be heard in the November elections. During a visit to the Midwestern Baptist Seminary, outside Kansas City, he told The Daily Telegraph that some of his friends had failed to vote for Mr Bush in 2000 because they were not convinced that he was Right-wing enough.
…Karl Rove, the White House political strategy chief, has told church leaders including Mr Land that he believes that four million evangelical Christians, most of them presumed to be natural Bush voters, failed to turn out in 2000.
For four years evangelicals like Mr Land, a nationally syndicated broadcaster and senior official of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination, have been wooed as rarely before.
“This administration has more evangelicals in it than any I’ve dealt with, including Reagan’s – starting with the guy at the top,” Mr Land said. “They have been far more solicitous of our concerns.”
With the 2004 election a dead heat once again, the Bush administration and its Christian admirers are campaigning to maximise the religious vote.
…[the religious] energy is being channelled by new voter turnout and registration drives, some directly run by the Bush-Cheney campaign, others run by Christian groups.
There is the Arizona-based Presidential Prayer Team, whose members pray for Mr Bush and his cabinet and hold “Pray the Vote” drives.
The Southern Baptists, with a million members in the swing state of Florida, have launched an “I Vote Values” tour of the Bible Belt, featuring an 18-wheeler lorry transformed into a voter registration centre.
American churches are not allowed to endorse any party or candidate, on pain of losing their charitable tax-exempt status.
Mr Land did not mention Mr Bush in his sermon to the Midwestern Baptist Seminary. But he did denounce the Democratic candidate, Senator John Kerry, for supporting abortion rights while maintaining that as a Roman Catholic he believed that life begins at conception.
Mr Kerry’s attempt to separate religious values from public policy was “functional atheism”, Mr Land said in a sermon heavy on talk of abortion, pornography, threats to traditional marriage, and the “decay” of modern society.
So sermonizing against the war is a “campaign intervention” and jeopardizes a church’s tax exempt status, but denouncing John Kerry for his support of abortion rights and openly working for the election of the Bush-Cheney ticket does not — according to the IRS. I guess it all comes down to what the definition of “is” is.