A politics of Misdirection
by Jim Hutson
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Already the typical political maneuvering of the Democratic Party is in motion over Obama's illegal political speech at the 50th Anniversary Synod of the United Church of Christ, a religious event. According to Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), a liberal organization, Obama's speech did not violate the IRS regulations regarding "politicking" from the pulpit.
The Internal Revenue Service has stated recently that it would be closely watching the activities of partisan politics involving charities. Apparently, the UCC is not a 501(c) (3) organization, which is the designation of a tax-exempt entity. The AUSCS was quick to send a request of investigation to the IRS regarding Bishop Thomas J. Tobin's article about his personal opinion regarding Rudy Giuliani's stance on abortion. In the article, printed in the Rhode Island Catholic, the official publication of the diocese, Bishop Tobin states that "[I] would never support a candidate who supports legalized abortion."
Under the Revenue Ruling 2007-4, the IRS states that in order for an organization 'to remain tax exempt under section 501(c)(3), leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official functions of the organization.'
Barry Lynn, AU's executive director, says, "If the bishop wants to join the political fray, he should do so as an individual without dragging along his tax-exempt diocese. A church is not a political action committee, and it should not act like one."
So the United Church of Christ (UCC), which is hosting Obama's speech on its website's archives and who hosted Obama, a Democratic Presidential hopeful, at their 50th Anniversary Synod a week ago, did not violate the Revenue Ruling 2007-4, according to Lynn. How? Well, according to Lynn, "the denomination made it clear beforehand to attendees and Obama's staff that the speech was not a political rally and could not be treated as such."
Lynn stepped into the controversy further with the statement, "[the government] cannot strip the candidates of their religious beliefs or have them 'persona non grata' at events that are sponsored by the very churches or religious organization which they're affiliated."
But, this event, which was not opened to the general public, was already in violation of the church and state separation, according to Ted Weis, Pastor of the Congregational Church (UCC) in Kansas, on his blog site. " …due to the United Church of Christ's religious conviction--that it would not hold its Synod in a facility involved in a labor dispute--and the UCC's financial inability to move its event across town to the more expensive Civic Center--and the UCC's promise to move its religious event out of state--that the State of Connecticut and its governor intervened and worked out its $100,000 grant."
Barry Lynn apparently also feels that this was not a violation, even though his organization went against the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education (NBCCE) when it received a grant from the Maryland General Assembly, "[This] grant is totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional, " Lynn stated in the letter of violation to the IRS.
What was the difference between the two grants? Maryland's grant was to abate the burden of public transportation whereas the Connecticut was to help a financial burden to a church organization. Again, Lynn's AU feels there was no violation of IRS revenue rulings.
Apparently forgotten are Revenue Rulings 66-256 and 74-574 that make clear that sponsoring political debates or forums are permissible only where they are "held for the purpose of educating and informing voters, which provides fair and impartial treatment of the candidates, and which does not promote or advance one candidate over another." And there's also Revenue Ruling 86-95 that states a series of forums must be content and form neutral to be permissible.
The IRS gives three major factors specifically regarding the appearance of candidates for public office as a 'candidate' and as 'not a candidate' for 501(c)(3) organizations:
1. As a Candidate, the event must:
i. Equal opportunity must be given to all candidates seeking the same office.
ii. Indicates support or opposition to the candidate at the event or public statements about the event.
iii. Allows political fundraising.
2. Not as a Candidate;
i. Conditions to consider by IRS as to 'if the candidate is publicly recognized by the organization or if the candidate is invited to speak,' are whether;
1. He is asked to speak "solely for reasons other than candidacy for public office."
2. There is any mention of the candidacy or election.
3. Any campaign activity occurs.
4. There is a nonpartisan atmosphere and,
5. The sponsoring organization 'clearly indicates the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and does not mention the individual's candidacy."
Even an indirect reference made by the sponsoring organization made to the election or reelection of the candidate are reasons to violate that organization's 501(c)(3) status. So, according to Lynn, Senator Barack Obama did not violate the IRS rulings regarding church electioneering and neither did the leadership of the UCC.
Statements like, "It's been several months since I announced I was running for President," clearly an 'mention of candidacy' and the setup of Obama campaign tables soliciting help by UCC staffers, clearly 'campaign activity', are not violations of the rulings that silence most religious organizations and draw the ire of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU). Lynn, himself, is quoted as saying, "He [Obama] shouldn't done so [mentioning presidential candidacy] and I am disappointed that he made the reference." Lynn's own connections as an ordained minister with the UCC apparently allow him to keep a clear head in regards to the church-state issues.
Immigration and the fate of undocumented illegals in the US are considered by most political commentators to be social justice issues rather than religious ones. "Now, as children of God, we believe in the worth and dignity of every human being…" Obama states, "it doesn't matter where that person came from or what documents they have." If there is any doubt of Obama's speech being political in nature, the following addition to the statement above should clear that up, "…we know also that this is a nation of laws and we cannot have those laws broken when more than 2,000 people cross our borders illegally every day." Political double talk, something that Democrats and Republicans both thrive on.
"That's why I've been fighting to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage." "I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as President." "It's a war that I'm proud I opposed from the start---a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged." These statements, or similar ones, made by conservatives or Republicans would have quickly drawn the ire of Barry Lynn's organization. But even Obama's statement, "So let's rededicate ourselves to a new kind of politics –a politics of conscience" doesn't seem to faze him.
The politics of misdirection is what Obama's speech is. This is the left's typical mode of operandi, to misdirect the attention away from its own violations of policy and law, not to mention the will of the people, by focusing on the right. Unfortunately, it seems to be the Democratic methodology also.
Obama said that "Faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart." He referenced the Christian Right and the evangelical leaders of today, making sure he separated those who have supported him in the past such as Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes, Reverend Jim Wallis, and Rabbi David Saperstein from the lambasting he brings to bear on the evangelicals. Apparently only the Obama supporters are active in confronting poverty, HIV/AIDS, and the genocide in Darfur. Evangelical leaders of the Christian Right apparently do not support those issues, in Obama's eyes.
Andrew Sullivan, of the Atlantic Online, feels that Obama is the best representative of the Christian movement. "Barack Obama seems to want to bring the country together as best he can on this issue of faith and politics." But later, Sullivan points to the Christian Right. "These leaders," Sullivan says of the 'evangelical leaders' Obama chastises as hijackers of the faith, "have spoken out and taken action on issues like the genocide in Darfur, poverty in America, torture techniques, helping people after devastating natural disasters, etc." Sullivan goes on to state what most political analysts, writers, and columnists say about the Obama speech, "Yes, Obama is aggressively staking his candidacy in part on explicitly religious appeal." Elizabeth Hamilton of the Courant writes that Obama's speech was, "Part political stump speech and part religious rallying cry."
And yet, there has been no big announcement from the IRS about an investigation into arguably the most politically progressive mainline Protestant church's violation of 'politicking" from the pulpit by one of its most influential members.
Obama calls the assembled UCC membership of some 10,000, "faithful witnesses of the gospel," referring to the move from Conneticut Convention Center because of a labor dispute and where the UCC didn't get any offer of state incentives, to the more expensive Hartford Civic Center, where UCC could apparently host the event for free since the State of Conneticut paid the cost of the facility.
If Obama feels that his political speech in front of the UCC congregation wasn't politizing from the pulpit, wasn't a violation of IRS revenue rulings, and wasn't 'hijacking the faith', I would point to another Obama quote.
"I don't know what Bible [or IRS ruling he's] reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version."
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