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Federal Tax Agency Investigated Partisan Politicking By Nonprofits In 2004 And Plans To Do So Again This Year, Says New Report

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today welcomed a new report by the Internal Revenue Service detailing its enforcement of the federal tax law barring partisan political activity by churches and other charities.
The report notes that the IRS examined activities by 132 non-profits from 2004 as part of its initiative. It reports that ?fewer than half? were churches. The IRS concluded that in many of the cases, significant violations of the law had occurred. The tax agency also announced plans to vigorously enforce the law during this election year.
?This report proves that the IRS intends to fully enforce the law barring houses of worship from intervening in political campaigns,? said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. ?Pastors tempted to follow the Religious Right?s siren song into partisan activity need to sit up and take notice.?
Continued Lynn, ?Churches have no business becoming cogs in a candidate?s political machine. It damages the integrity of the church, and it violates federal tax law. This report indicates that the IRS takes allegations of violations seriously.?
In 1996, Americans United launched ?Project Fair Play,? an effort to educate religious leaders about IRS regulations governing politicking. As part of that effort, AU reports egregious violations of the law to the IRS. The organization reported 11 houses of worship and other religious non-profits in 2004.
The IRS report notes that of 132 cases examined, 82 are closed. In three cases, revocation of tax-exempt status was proposed. In 55 cases, the non-profits were issued written warnings. In one case, the IRS applied an excise tax.
Activities examined included the distribution of fliers promoting certain candidates, candidate endorsements from pulpits, churches displaying candidate signs and churches improperly permitting candidates to seek votes during church appearances.
?This report should lay to rest Religious Right claims that houses of worship have a right to engage in partisan politicking,? said Lynn. ?They don?t, and any that ignore the law and do so anyway could face severe sanctions.?

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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