Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pastors, Politics, and the Internet

The New York Times reports that the growing availability of sermons on the Internet, whether through church websites or YouTube, is increasing both IRS and watchdog scrutiny of pastors.  It cites examples ranging from attacks by Pastor James David Manning of Atlah World Ministries on Senator Barack Obama that quickly became fodder for Rush Limbaugh and others when they appeared on YouTube to Pastor Maury Davis of Cornerstone Church in Nashville, whose comments from the pulpit that he supported three parishioners running for school board were included in a video on the church's website that led to a local newspaper report.  The resulting publicity drew complaints to the IRS about both incidents from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  While the IRS is not generally allowed to comment on specific investigations, it has been increasingly active both with respect to education about and enforcement of the ban on charities, including churches, supporting or opposing the election of candidates for public office.  Its efforts include a recent memo from the Director of Exempt Organizations Examinations to all Exempt Organizations Revenue Agents regarding how to address Internet activity and a 2007 Revenue Ruling. That ruling also specifically addresses Internet activity, stating flatly that "If an organization posts something on its web site that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, the organization will be treated the same as if it distributed printed material, oral statements or broadcasts that favored or opposed a candidate."


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