November 6, 2012
Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman
1111 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20224-0002
Dear Commissioner Shulman:
I am writing to you regarding the Internal Revenue Service’s tax audits of houses of worship which have violated the law prohibiting pulpit politicking by non-profit organizations. As a minister who serves a Baptist congregation in Louisiana and the president of the national Interfaith Alliance, I have been deeply disturbed by the disproportionate role religion has played during recent election cycles. Specifically, I am appalled by the ever increasing frequency with which clergy around the country are endorsing or condemning candidates —that this blatant and intentional law breaking goes unchallenged by the IRS. The situation in which we find ourselves is unlike anything I have seen in my decades of ministry and this threat to both the integrity of religion and the vitality of politics must end.
I understand that a 2009 court case, United States v. Living Word Christian Center, required that the IRS clarify its rules on which officials are able to authorize such audits. However, the overwhelming consensus seems to be that there has been no action — either to make these clarifications or act on houses of worship violating the law. If steps have been taken to put a regime in place that is empowered to challenge the clergy who are intent on entangling themselves with electoral politics, I hope that you will soon make them public.
I want to be clear: I write to share my concerns because of my interest in protecting the interests of both religion and democracy. The prohibition against pulpit endorsements protects my fellow clergy members and me just as much as it protects our democratic system. As a defender of religious freedom I can unequivocally say such rules protect, rather than infringe upon my freedom. My prophetic mission to speak truth to power and educate my congregation on social justice issues important to our faith, is made possible in part because by being tax exempt, my church is free from government oversight and entanglement.
Furthermore, this is an issue that we know is not completely drawn with partisan lines. Though most of the high profile examples involve clergy stumping for Republican candidates — as in the case of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s so-called Pulpit Freedom Sunday — a recent survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 40 percent of black Protestants said their clergy have discussed their support for President Obama in church.
This election cycle is almost behind us, but I hope that you will give priority to putting the necessary rules and personnel in place before the 2014 Midterm Elections, to investigate houses of worship that flaunt the law and endorse political candidates. We have two years to stem this tide and I hope we can do so before our next election cycle, or the inaction of the IRS will only encourage more and more clergy to act in such an unlawful and unethical manner.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.