Mixing faith and politics

first_img“Just as the government isn’t going to look too closely at the religious uses churches are making of tax dollars they receive, so it might be equally appropriate if they don’t look too closely at the political activity of the churches that can receive tax-deductible donations,” said Ronald Garet, professor of law and religion at USC. The Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints notes his church has never violated federal law by contributing to a political candidate. He also said it has never endorsed nor opposed a particular political candidate, which also would violate IRS laws.IRS spokesman Jesse Weller declined to comment, referring to a statement issued by the agency last week that said the IRS investigates charities and churches when allegations are made. That’s the case at All Saints, which the IRS began investigating in June 2005 after receiving an anonymous complaint. In the escalating battle, the church last week refused an IRS summons to divulge records and sermons from 2004. The IRS said it examined 47churches nationwide for political activity compliance in 2004 and wrote warning letters or assessed excise taxes to 37. For their part, church officials said they didn’t know they had overstepped the line in making political contributions until the candidate returned the money or they were contacted by the Los Angeles Daily News, a sister publication of this newspaper. Some said they thought they were making donations in support of local leaders’ community efforts rather than political campaigns. Others said the candidates themselves reported the donations incorrectly. While it is not illegal for politicians to take the money, some have returned it and informed churches of the tax risk they face. Dozens of houses of worship statewide have jeopardized their nonprofit status by giving money from their collection plates to political candidates, according to a newspaper review. In the city of Los Angeles alone, 39 churches, synagogues and Buddhist temples were identified by political candidates as contributing more than $15,000 to their election campaigns since 1998, according to city Ethics Commission records. Under the Internal Revenue Service tax code, contributions to political candidates by nonprofits – including houses of worship – violate a prohibition against political campaign activity. The disclosure is the latest in a growing national debate over churches’ role in politics. The spotlight has focused locally on All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, which is in jeopardy of losing its tax-exempt status following a complaint last year that it ventured too far into the political arena when a former rector criticized the Bush administration in a sermon during the 2004 elections. Experts say the issues raise questions over whether the IRS is being even-handed. While the federal tax agency has taken on All Saints, some say it may be overlooking others’ political donations as well as whether churches are using federal funds solely for intended social programs. [email protected] (818) 713-3731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more