IRS Investigates UCC Over Obama Speech
A little breaking news:
Apparently the IRS has opened an investigation into Senator Barack Obama's address at the United Church of Christ's 2007 General Synod. The UCC is accused of engaging in "political activities." See the actual IRS letter here. A snippet from the press release is below:
The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, called the investigation "disturbing" but said the investigation would reveal that the church did nothing improper or illegal.
Obama, an active member of the United Church of Christ for more than 20 years, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., on June 23, 2007, as one of 60 diverse speakers representing the arts, media, academia, science, technology, business and government. Each was asked to reflect on the intersection of their faith and their respective vocations or fields of expertise. The invitation to Obama was extended a year before he became a Democratic presidential candidate.
"The United Church of Christ took great care to ensure that Senator Obama's appearance before the 50th anniversary General Synod met appropriate legal and moral standards," Thomas told United Church News. "We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated."
According to the article, the crowd at the General Synod was admonished that Obama's appearance was not to be a campaign-related event and that electioneering would tetolerated. Thus, no political leaflets, signs or placards were allowed and Obama's campaign was barred from the arena.
The IRS letter takes issue with the fact that 40 Obama volunteers staffed campaign tables outside of the Hartford arena. But since the campaign was barred from inside the arena - that seems to be a moot point. Further, the letter points out that under tax law, if a candidate is invited to speak in his or her capacity as a candidate, then other candidates running for the same office must also be invited to speak. However, as the article indicates, Obama was invited to address the General Synod one year before he announced his intention to run for President. Obama is a member of the largest congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ. It seems that his appearance at the General Synod was as a private person.
If Mike Huckabee was invited to address the Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June, I can't imagine the SBC also extending an invite to John McCain or any other candidate. As a well-known Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee should be afforded the same free exercise rights as Barack Obama would as a well-known UCCer.
You can read Obama's speech from last summer here (video).
The speech is not partisan. It's not a stump speech. During his address to the General Synod, Obama recounts his spiritual journey which led to his choice to accept Jesus Christ after hearing a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope" delivered by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Using the "God is Still Speaking" theme of the United Church of Christ and invoking the memory of Dr. King, Obama calls on the crowd to rededicate themselves to a new kind of politics - a politics of conscience. That kind of politics - a politics of conscience - should resonate with all Baptists who seek to apply their Christianity to all aspects of life.
From the information that has been released, this investigation seems to be much ado about nothing.