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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Battling Satan Will Repeal Your Tax Exemption

posted by on June 24 at 13:42 PM

You know a story is going to be good when it starts like this:

Bill Keller is a publicity-savvy televangelist with a penchant for politics who works out of the back room of a used-car lot.

Which seems like a pretty perfect mix: Not only can I be purified of my sins, but I can aquire get a gently-used 1991 Dodge Caravan, which will help me spread the message of our Lord and Savior.

But on to the point: During the Republican primary, Keller’s narrow view of scripture led him to make a comment about Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith leading the former Massachusetts governor down the path to Satan. In fact, the direct quote left little to be parsed:

“A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan.”

Is implying that a presidential hopeful shares a ticket with Satan grounds for losing your tax exempt status? The New York Times reports that Keller is under investigation by the IRS for bringing his church into the realm of politics, a battle which Keller is welcoming. In fact, Keller and a conservative evangelical legal organization, the Alliance Defense Fund, are actually trying to goad the government into legal action against them:

The Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting 50 pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit on September 28, hoping to provoke a legal challenge to the I.R.S. code.

“We’re asking pastors to make specific recommendations based on scripture as to how their congregations should vote,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund.

Mr. Stanley said the organization planned to send tapes of the sermons to the IRS, and then sue the agency for inhibiting free speech and the free exercise of religion when an investigation is opened.

Should the court challenge succeed, churches would be all but free to make the endorsements openly that they now crouch in subtext and loopholes. Feel free to draw your own real life parallels to the plot-line of the bestselling Left Behind series.

RSS icon Comments


ya gotta pay to play...if you want free speech, pay your damn taxes just like the rest of us.

Posted by Andrew | June 24, 2008 2:59 PM

Unanswered question: Why doesn't the Alliance Defense Fund go ahead and file suit now against the IRS investigation of Bill Keller?  Why instigate 50 new offenses?

There's no direct explanation, but I think I see the answer in this ominous final sentence from the NYT blog post:

[ADF Senior legal counsel Erik] Stanley said the Alliance Defense Fund had hundreds of pastors who wanted to participate, and would have to narrow it down to those who were prepared to suffer any consequences.
Posted by lostboy | June 24, 2008 3:18 PM

Laughable. However, I could foresee a scenario in which some of the giant megachurches (you know, the ones with private jets and 500-acre campuses) would voluntarily sacrifice their tax exempt status in order to be overtly politically active.

I mean, organizations like Focus on the Family and FRC Action are already seriously blurring the line between religious ministry and for-profit political lobbying group.

Posted by Hernandez | June 24, 2008 3:22 PM

Hernandez @3, one nitpick:  tax-exempt != not-for-profit

Conversely:  taxable != for-profit

Posted by lostboy | June 24, 2008 3:31 PM

Aren't the tapes he plans to send to the IRS categorized as "Weapons of Mass Deception"?

If so, he might end up in GITMO for six years ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 24, 2008 4:05 PM

Naw, @5, it'll be perfectly okay. All he has to do is say shrub told him to send in the tapes and Congress will let him off-the-hook.

Posted by COMTE | June 24, 2008 4:11 PM

These people absolutely have the right of free speech. They can support or attack (verbally) any candidate they want. There are, however, specific rules you have to follow to be considered a church and thus not have to pay taxes. If we didn't have these rules anybody could say they're a church and get off the hook. I hope the IRS takes them to court, wins and hits them for back taxes for all the years they've already been walking the line.

Posted by Colin | June 25, 2008 2:22 PM

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