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Old 03-22-2005, 09:10 AM   #1
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IRS Investigating Church For Hosting Kerry

I'm posting the whole article because you have to have an account to read it..

LIBERTY CITY, FL

IRS probes politics at church

A Liberty City church's tax-exempt status is in jeopardy as the IRS has launched a probe into a visit by former candidate John Kerry last fall. Some wonder if the probe is politically motivated.

BY ANDREA ROBINSON

arobinson@herald.com

The IRS has notified a Liberty City church that it is under investigation for possibly engaging in political activity -- putting its tax-exempt status into question.

The probe is related to an appearance last October by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and several black leaders, including U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The reason for the investigation, an IRS official wrote in a 10-page letter obtained by The Herald, is that ``a reasonable belief exists that Friendship Missionary Baptist Church has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church.''

Rev. Gaston Smith took a break from the revelry and worship of Palm Sunday services to inform the congregation about the inquiry. He said visits by political candidates are nothing new, and that the 75-year-old church did not violate U.S. tax code, as suggested in the letter. He has hired former U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis to defend the church in the inquiry.

''This is not about politics. It's about principles,'' Smith said. Silence fell over the congregation as he spoke.

The inquiry raises serious questions about whether the predominantly black church can keep its tax-exempt status. If it fails, members and contributors could not deduct tithes and other gifts, upon which churches heavily rely to operate.

Both men predicted Friendship, 740 NW 58th St., would prevail.

Addressing the congregation, Lewis said that after being contacted by Smith, it took him ''about a second'' to take the case. He said he took the case pro bono.

''It is important that the church be able to remain a tax-exempt organization,'' Lewis said. ``I have faith in our government. I have faith in the IRS as well.''

Federal tax law prohibits churches from participating in political campaigns. Beyond the legal questions, the inquiry is likely to energize the debate raised last fall about the role of churches during national elections. Watchdog groups complained to the IRS shortly after Kerry's visit to Friendship, saying that it amounted to a ``rally.''

PROBE QUESTIONED

Although both Smith and Lewis discounted that the letter was politically motivated, some in the audience did not. They wondered if similar letters were sent to any church that hosted President Bush.

It is not clear whose complaint triggered the IRS investigation, nor is it known if other churches are under investigation related to the 2004 campaign cycle.

An IRS spokesman could not be reached for comment. Federal law forbids the agency from speaking about an investigation or say if the letter even exists.

Meek, the statewide chairman of Kerry's failed presidential campaign, said the complaints came from outsider groups that may specifically be targeting black churches. He said two other Miami-area churches received inquiry notices last year, but declined to name them or discuss the probes.

''I would like for these groups to show their face. What they're doing is launching complaints against African-American churches in Florida, which is very unfortunate, and in some cases embarrassing for the institution,'' Meek said.

Last year, the IRS was decried for investigating whether a speech by NAACP Chairman Julian Bond last summer criticizing the Bush administration violated tax law.

Bond said he felt the probe was politically motivated and meant to have a chilling effect on the NAACP and its efforts to register black voters.

Included with the letter is a 21-item questionnaire that the church must answer regarding the circumstances leading up to and during Kerry's appearance.

Among the questions: Did the pastor endorse Kerry or oppose another presidential candidate? Did the church coordinate the event with the Kerry campaign? Were contributions solicited on behalf of the campaign?

''We are not scared of anything because God has not given us a spirit of fear,'' Smith told his congregation.

IRS officials wrote that their concerns were based on an Oct. 13 news report in a tax publication that reported Friendship hosted a ''rally'' on behalf of Kerry.

'During the service, the church's pastor . . . introduced Kerry as `the next president of the United States' and told the crowd that 'to bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has sent John Kerry,' '' the report said.

An article published in The Herald on Oct. 22 quoted Smith as saying, ``to bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry.''

Nothing the preacher did or said should affect the church's tax-exempt status, Lewis said. ``Everything he and the church did was in accord with the law.''

`WASN'T A RALLY'

Larry Lawton, a church deacon, said the October service was nothing out of the ordinary.

The service lineup was pretty much the same: Praise and worship, followed by Smith's sermon and altar call. He said Kerry spoke for maybe five minutes, followed by two each for the two civil rights leaders.

''It wasn't a rally. We had church, and like the pastor said, we had two people to come up that day and get saved,'' Lawton said.

Smith and other members pointed out that the week before, Miami-Dade mayoral candidates Jimmy Morales, a Democrat, and Carlos Alvarez, a Republican who later was elected, made a campaign stop.

Kerry's visit was covered by national media, and drew several complaints from the watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which said Kerry's appearance was ``a clear case of a church hosting a partisan political rally.''

The letter almost certainly will fuel the growing debate over how far churches -- and their leaders -- can get involved in political activity.
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Old 03-22-2005, 09:24 AM   #2
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Interesting that this is coming from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. As I read the article, I thought it was some conservative group going after the church.

I think the following are fair questions to ask of any church:

Quote:
Among the questions: Did the pastor endorse Kerry or oppose another presidential candidate? Did the church coordinate the event with the Kerry campaign? Were contributions solicited on behalf of the campaign?
A church is always at risk if they do anything more than welcome a candidate as any other congregant. I wouldn't want any political candidate speaking at our church.
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Old 03-22-2005, 01:47 PM   #3
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I wouldn't want that either

No one else?

Doesn't anyone remember this?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...2004Jun30.html
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Old 03-22-2005, 02:13 PM   #4
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I know both sides were involved in such efforts. We had individual congregants that tried to bring the campaign on to our church campus. Our clerk of session had to send them nice letter asking them to stop handing out materials on campus between services.
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Old 03-22-2005, 05:23 PM   #5
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Here's a little tidbit: my dad is a minister and so i know some of this separation stuff. A minister can endorse a candidate...just not on behalf of the church.
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Old 03-22-2005, 10:28 PM   #6
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Would he do it from the pulpit?
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Old 03-23-2005, 06:05 AM   #7
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There have been campaigns to take away the tax-exempt status of the Catholic Church for its part in political causes, abortion in particular, but other issues too. EWTN all but endorsed George Bush; so did the Knights of Columbus, when they invited Bush to speak to their meeting but not Kerry. However, the Church, through one of its publications, put out a "Catholic Guide to Citizenship" urging Catholics to vote but carefully avoiding an endorsement of either party's platform. It's walking a fine line for many people, and many religious groups.
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Old 03-23-2005, 05:44 PM   #8
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Why is it only black churches Democrats go to?
Was Clinton the one who started this tradition?
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Old 03-23-2005, 05:46 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by drhark
Why is it only black churches Democrats go to?
Was Clinton the one who started this tradition?
Anything to back this up? And what would it matter?
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Old 03-23-2005, 05:47 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by drhark
Why is it only black churches Democrats go to?
Was Clinton the one who started this tradition?
The whole Clinton/Davis outing crossed my mind as well when I was reading this thread. Yet, I don't see what the big deal was, as least from a "separation of church and state" standpoint. I'd let that be something between them and their maker.
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