Tuesday, February 23, 2010
A group of Columbus, Ohio pastors have requested that the IRS investigate whether the C Street Center in DC should be entitled to tax exempt status as a church. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the pastors will file a complaint with the IRS today, asking for the investigation. The pastors are concerned that the Center is not a church and that by "masquerading" as a church, the Center "poses a threat to the integrity and legitimacy of all religious organizations in the United States."
The C Street Center operates as a residential facility and a spiritual retreat for some members of Congress. The Center offers private Bible sessions and weekly dinners to members of Congress, and provides cheap rooms for a few Senators and Representatives. News reports have said that the Center is run by the Fellowship Foundation, an evangelical Christian network also known as the Family, but the president of the Fellowship Foundation, Richard Carver, says that his organization does not own or run the C Street Center. Because the C Street Center is tax exempt as a church, the Center is not required to file the documents non-church exempt organizations file. This lack of transparency is part of what concerns the pastors, who are concerned about the separation of church and state - and the fact that activities in the C Street Center may be attempts to influence public officials. If the C Street Center is not a church, it will have to file tax returns that reveal its sources of income. It will then be possible to determine whether private money is being used in attempts to influence members of Congress.
Last fall the District of Columbia revoked 66% of the property tax exemption the C Street Center had received as a church, because 66% of the Center was used as a residence and not as a church.
Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS tax-exempt division, is representing the pastors.