Month: January 2015

Religious and secular advocates urge IRS to clarify rules on political endorsements from the pulpit

Michael Batts, who chaired a commission of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability that recommended Internal Revenue Service policy changes, speaks at the National Press Club on Jan. 29, 2015. Behind him is Ezra Reese, a member of the drafting committee of Public Citizen’s Bright Lines Project. Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious and secular advocacy groups jointly called Thursday (Jan. 29) for greater clarity by the Internal Revenue Service regarding nonprofits and political activity.

In a rare combined front, leaders of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, Alliance Defending Freedom, Public Citizen and the Center for American Progress met at the National Press Club to discuss ways the tax agency could better help nonprofits know what they can and cannot do under the law.

“Something needs to change,” said Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. “We agree that clear and brighter lines must be adopted.”

In 2013, a commission appointed by the ECFA issued a 91-page report recommending that clergy should be able to say “whatever they believe is appropriate” from the pulpit without fear of IRS reprisal. Current IRS rules, dating to 1954, permit clergy to address issues but prohibit candidate endorsements.

But those rules are routinely broken with little or no consequence.

Michael Batts, who chaired the ECFA’s Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, said the IRS should hesitate to enforce some of its current rules, which could cause constitutional and public relations problems.

“The IRS itself needs an exit strategy, and churches and charities need freedom of speech and the freedom to exercise religion,” he said.

Erik Stanley, a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, said IRS laws about “indirect” campaigning are too vague and the IRS is not enforcing its rules about direct campaigning. He said some 4,000…


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