Thursday, February 28, 2008

Speaking of the UCC

Just to clarify a couple of points about the UCC-Obama speech flap:

1) The IRS letter doesn't mention the content of Obama's speech; merely the fact that it was made. Some people are focussing on the content, and noting it was non-political, but the IRS guidelines don't restrict what can be said so much as who can say it, and what they do around saying it. So the IRS is concerned that Obama was there at all, and that his campaign workers set up tables on the public street outside the building where the General Synod was meeting. The 1st Amendment still applies in these cases, but it is not, as constitutional law has noted on more than one occassion, an absolute proscription on who can speak. It is, however, an almost absolute proscription on controlling what is said, and the exceptions to the ban on 501(c)3 organizations being "involved" (a term of art in this matter) in politics recognize this.

2) John Wilson understands this, and puts the entire matter in the appropriate context: these kinds of investigations have a chilling effect on other 501(c)3 organizations (it's not just churches!). He cites the Art Institute of Chicago which decided not to present a documentary on Obama, for fear of recieving just this kind of IRS challenge to their status. These things are very expensive, as I said, and charitable organizations don't have lawyers on retainer to protect them from such investigations. This is not, in other words, just a "cost of doing business" for such charities.

3) So, is this investigation "political"? Barry Lynn said "no" on NPR yesterday; but I agree with Pastor Dan: if it's walking like a duck, and quacking like a duck, it's hard to say it's not a duck. I still expect this to end as the All Saints investigation did; but I still think it stinks, you should pardon the expression, to high heaven.

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