February 29, 2008
Jack Siegel's Take on IRS Investigation of Obama Church Speech
Noted nonprofit governance expert Jack Siegel has written an objective and interesting analysis of the concerns relating to a recent speech given by Barack Obama at the United Church of Christ's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford Connecticut on June 23, 2007. The analysis notes the efforts made by the Church prior to Obama's speech in an effort to avoid campaign intervention. Seigel concludes, nevertheless, that Obama crossed the line at certain points. Here is the conclusion:
We do think Congress must step in and write a prohibition on political campaign activity that addresses the reality of how churches and other Section 501(c)(3) organizations interact with political candidates. In addressing this problem, we would like to see Congress take an approach akin to that taken by the intermediate sanctions in Section 4958. That is, rather than penalizing the innocent entity or the entity that can't control a speaker once the speech has begun, the sanctions should focus on the speaker's conduct, penalizing the speaker. Many will argue that this raises First Amendment issues. We recognize that possibility, but are not convinced. Obviously, the speaker has a right to speak, but the speech in question is by invitation. Consequently, this is not silencing the speaker in terms of access to the public square.
I think Siegel hits the nail on the head when he states that Congress should address the reality of how churches interact with political candidates. That reality, it seems to me though, inevitably leads to the conclusion that prohibiting stump speeches, even from the pulpit, is a futile waste of time. I'm not even sure its good policy.
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