Friday, March 7, 2008

NPR Report on Obama Speech to United Church of Christ: Just in Case You Haven't Heard Enough!

In case you have not already read or seen enough about the faux controversy regarding Barack Obama's speech last June at the United Church of Christs 50th Anniversary General Synod, here is the NPR report on the topic, including excerpts from the speech and an interview with Church officials.  So now I have finally done it.  I have written a story critical of the media, of which I have become a part, for continuing to report on a non-story, of which my own reporting is part and parcel.  Yes, I am now a real reporter!  Ahh, but there is one redeeming quality to this report.  A spokesperson for Americans United for Separation of Church and State -- the virtual pit bulldogs growling about houses of worship and campaign intervention -- even admits in the NPR report that the story is a non-story.  In summary, this report is about a story that is a non-story!  Have a great weekend.


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Ahhh... a non-story because.... ta dah... you don't know the story. What's been reported in the media was the incomplete spin from a press release from the United Church of Christ. The problem with this story is that there wasn't any real reporting or investigation of what the allegations were.

Congrats! You drank the punch.

Now, if you actually read the complaint that was sent to the IRS, you would see a broader, legitimate concern based on the current IRS regulations and how they were specifically violated. You can read it here:

Posted by: drew | Mar 7, 2008 8:59:22 PM

Even better! Now (since the letter's name is blacked out and refers to incorrect authorities), I can continue this non-story by attributing it to anonymous highly placed sources within the addministration who are afraid that men in masks will drag him from his home at night if he or she were to divulge his or her identity. In the meantime, I'll just refer to the writer as "deep throat." And then in about thirty years I'll get a big contract when I finally divulge the real identity. Thanks Drew!

Posted by: Darryll Jones | Mar 8, 2008 6:33:37 AM

Good sarcasm to cover for the fact that you made some rather stark conclusions without really knowing what you were talking about.

And what did you mean "Incorrect Authorities"?

Posted by: drew | Mar 8, 2008 3:53:34 PM

"Cover." Nice. You do realize (or have you even listened to the NPR report?) that even the Americans United For Separation of Church and State --the educated people who do this sort of thing -- policing church political activity for a living, that is -- are on record as having stated that there is nothing to the story. Did this "staunchly conservative" group drink the punch too? As to "incorrect authorities" I would invite you to find one judicial opinion, one brief, one memorandum, one neophyte law student, one crumpled napkin with red crayon notes that cites to an "IRS Fact Sheet," as does your(?) anonymous letter. What, is this just a hobby for you? I know enough to know that you really did your research on that one, by God! But this is all too easy.

Posted by: Darryll Jones | Mar 9, 2008 7:53:49 PM

OK, so your argument is that contrasting the IRS rules literally is not valid? Good logic. That would be like saying the constitution doesn't matter, just opinions about the constitution matter.

As far as Americans United goes, you may not be aware that it's Executive Director is an ordained UCC minister and is tight with the UCC's national leaders. He has never gone against the UCC. Barry Lynn is an established hypocrite on church/state issues.

And you probably didn't catch this about Trinity UCC which is also now suspected of violating IRS rules:

And you want third-party validation of this also? Here you go:

Ellen Aprill, an associate dean at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former adviser to the Treasury Department on matters including nonprofit tax law, says she believes those sermons are "clearly a violation. They're naming names.''

Donald Tobin, an associate dean at Ohio State University law school, who formerly worked for the Justice Department on nonprofit tax matters, adds that nonprofits cannot make endorsements or engage in a "pattern and practice that is designed to support one candidate over another." After being read sections of the Trinity sermons by the Journal, he said, "There does seem to be a pattern of attempting to tip the scales in a way for Barack Obama. And churches shouldn't be doing that."

Posted by: drew | Mar 10, 2008 8:38:40 AM

Darryll - you are earning my respect and I hope that of others that may read this. Let me be less sarcastic and drill down a bit on this because I think we are getting somewhere. Thank you also for the background info.

You are not arguing that the UCC did not violate the rules, you are saying that the rules are not really the law... is that a fair way of restating your understanding?

If true, then there is a serious problem with the IRS holding these rules and using them as a basis for investigation.

And just in case you are wondering, I have nothing to do with any of this but I am a staunch defender of the separation of church and state - even to the point that I do not think candidates should be speaking in churches. In my opinion, it is an indirect endorsement and should constitute political intervention. But my opinion means little. I am enlightened but disappointed that the IRS rules really aren't the law.

Posted by: Drew | Mar 10, 2008 12:27:01 PM

Well, perhaps my own sarcasm and prejudices are showing as well. I've not intended disrespect, as much as robust debate. Indeed, I may have been seduced by my own sarcasm. My point with regard to the Fact Sheet is that fact sheets are ususally distillations of IRS arguments in favor of whatever policy position is at issue. Fact Sheets usually set forth IRS litigating positions, only some of which are supportable, and all of which is designed to scare the readers into not doing something. The IRS is a party to the debate, after all. Apprill and Tobin have done lots of work on this issue, but I think their own background seeps through their analysis. Not a put down of them, merely an acknowledgment that all of us are prisoners of ourselves. I have only read the WSJ article with respect to the Illinois Church, but I would agree that those Churches are have engaged in campaign intervention. We have been talking about two different things all along, it seems. It would make a difference, too, if the UCC held a group exemption letter covering the Illinois Church (though I tend to doubt it, since most churches either don't apply or apply separately for tax exemption). I too believe in separation of church and state but the campaign prohibition seems the lease worry arising from Church involvement in politics. In theory it would be nice if churches stayed completely out of politics but churches, as do politics, involve the governnance of the masses. The two are inextricably interwined. We might easily keep government out of religion (establishhing or prohibiting) but to prevent religious people from commenting on or even condemning contested matters of public policy -- even elections -- is a futile, money wasting effort. Churches that preach against abortion or stem cell research are necessarily (by implication) preaching for or against whatever candidate opposes or supports a certain cause. It is protected, at least, by the first amendment for churches to express opinions on matters of life, death, poverty, public morality, war and peace. Those things also happen to be the stuff of politics. So the ban merely breeds disrespect for the law as Churches will continue to do what they do. I suppose we could revoke tax exemption but, as at least one Supreme Court has pointed out, that would require government regulation of churches -- auditing annual returns, etc. In this way, governments would be required to regulate churches and the power to regulate is the power to extinguish. Eventually, we might have only one church. So we can agree that the Church in Illinois has crossed the line and, assuming the ban is constitutional, ought to be sanction. The Church at which Obama delivered his speech is defensible (at least) even if they have committed a foot fault.

Posted by: Darryll Jones | Mar 10, 2008 12:49:41 PM

I'm getting it... thanks for your patience. I love a good debate as I'm sure you do. I hpe others will jump in too.

I won't drag this out much further, but lets play this out: The UCC will now respond to the IRS questions and the IRS will determine if the UCC violated the IRS rules. Fom viewing the complaint, I think we would have to agree that (by IRS standards) the UCC violated the rules and I would bet a warning letter will be sent. I hear what you are saying about the rules, but I think it's unlikely that the IRS is going to issue a rule and then overturn it.

IF it plays out like this, does it end there?

Posted by: Drew | Mar 10, 2008 1:35:45 PM

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