Editorial: IRS law is plain wrong

Published 8:51 am Friday, October 10, 2008

There he was, the Rev. George Marin of Grace Christian Church in Albert Lea, on the front page of last Sunday’s Star Tribune. The story was about preaching politics from the church pulpit. Marin told his congregation not to vote for presidential candidate Barack Obama because of his pro-choice view on abortion.

At first read, we asked ourselves, why waste votes on the issue of abortion? Nothing much changes on the issue. Eight years ago, President Bush, a pro-life candidate, was elected. Guess what? Abortion is still legal. Whether Obama or John McCain is elected, in four years, it still will be legal.

We even wondered that if abortion was banned, what would Marin and his ilk do? Would they start favoring more funding for state and federal programs that help impoverished children such as Head Start? Most Christians want to help the poor.

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But we read on, and something else struck us as seriously offensive.

The story also said few preachers cross the legal threshold of IRS rules that ban political preaching. Suburban megachurches avoid it for fear of losing their nonprofit status but smaller churches like Marin’s take the risk.

How is it that the IRS can ban any kind of preaching? What part of the First Amendment does the IRS not understand?

Marin should be able to endorse any candidate he wishes, even if it is from the pulpit. He is protected by freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The congregation is protected by freedom of assembly.

Mixing religion and politics might not be the best idea, but an even worse idea is to ban it. Religious leaders should be allowed to say what they wish without fear of losing nonprofit status.

If Congress via the IRS can name what speech is allowed to gain a nonprofit status, what’s next? Will the Congress use its tax codes to tell more areas of society what they can and cannot say?

The IRS has increased the number of letters to churches, conservative and liberal, warning them to avoid endorsements or using key words as pro-choice or pro-life.

This is a regulation just waiting to be struck down. We will rejoice with Marin and other congregations on the day it finally is ruled unconstitutional.