After church member and Presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at a United Church of Christ convention the IRS is threatening to strip the denomination of its tax exempt status. However, the mayor of Hartford, Connecticut has asked elected officials to intervenes:
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez asked Congress today to investigate the IRS' threat to strip the United Church of Christ of its tax-exempt status over Barack Obama's speech to a church convention in Hartford in 2007.
"If the IRS is successful, every church synagogue and mosque that invites an elected official to speak on issues such as the war in Iraq, abortion, the environment, labor and other issues of social justice could fear loss of their non-profit status," Perez said.
He is asking U.S. Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman and U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to intervene.
"This IRS action should outrage members of both parties and people of faith throughout the country," Perez said.
A letter from the IRS to the church says candidates are permitted to speak at church functions, but if a candidate is speaking "in his or her capacity as a candidate, then other candidates running for the same office must also be invited."
The church says Obama, a UCC member, was one of 60 speakers from many fields invited to talk about the intersection of their faiths and vocations. He was invited a year before becoming a presidential candidate.
It seems to me the IRS doesn't really have a leg to stand on. Obama is a member of the UCC, and he was invited well before he became a candidate. All political office holders are perpetual candidates anyway. Now certainly churches do not need to become simply political arms of either party, which can be a real danger, but this seems to be a tempest in a teapot.