Friday, May 06, 2005

Revoke their tax-exempt status
Writers at Daily Kos and Democratic Underground are trying to get some details on this, but the bottom line is that a North Carolina church just excommunicated all of its Democratic members.
Religion and Politics Clash
Religion and politics clash over a local church's declaration that Democrats are not welcome.

East Waynesville Baptist asked nine members to leave. Now 40 more have left the church in protest. Former members say Pastor Chan Chandler gave them the ultimatum, saying if they didn't support George Bush, they should resign or repent. The minister declined an interview with News 13. But he did say "the actions were not politically motivated." There are questions about whether the bi-laws were followed when the members were thrown out.

Churches have tax-exempt status on the condition that they refraim from engaging in electoral politics. That's a very fine line to define. The rough rule of thumb is that churches can support (or oppose) issues but they cannot support candidates. The line gets messy with things like ministers and chuch members making personal endorsements, inviting politicians to speak at official church functions, or allowing chuch property to be used for political events. Though churches regularly push against the line, complete revocations of tax-exempt status are very rare.

To further complicate things, churches, both as organizations and as groups of individuals, have the same rights of free speech and association that private individuals have. If the church wants to require a declaration of faith that is identical to the Reublican Party platform from its members, they have that right as long as they do not put it in such blatantly political terms. Pastor Chandler appears to have crossed the line by bringing Bush's name and the act of voting into the discussion.

If the early reports are even remotely correct, the IRS has no defense. They must act.

Update - Coturnix and the North Carolina bloggers are all over this.

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