IRS finally gets it right on religious rights

In a rare move, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) correctly ruled that ministers and pastors do not risk losing their tax-exempt status for engaging in political acts on behalf of issues such as traditional-values advocacy according to yesterday's "The Washington Times." That is good news for those who believe in constitutionally-guaranteed religious rights in America.

The IRS sent a letter to a group called the Niemoller Foundation which, like churches, is a 501(c)(3) organization according to the IRS code, saying that it did not violate its non-profit status by gathering together pastors for a series of public policy conferences. A left-wing group called the Texas Freedom Network had filed a complaint against the Nielmoller Foundation with the IRS. At these conferences, prominent elected officials and others urged these pastors to register their congregations to vote. The IRS in their letter found "no evidence of political intervention."

Many Democrats and their allies in the media complained that such massive efforts reaching clergy in the state of Ohio during the 2004 presidential election enabled President George W. Bush to win Ohio and therefore reelection. It is ironic that a liberal group brought the complaint to the IRS which forced the IRS to issue a ruling giving a First Amendment victory to non-profit organizations and pastors, thus helping conservatives and the Republican Party.

According to the IRS' letter to the Niemoller Foundation, clergy can exercise their religious rights and engage in political acts on behalf of moral values and they can encourage their congregants to get out the vote based on those issues and values. Most pastors with commonsense already knew they had such First Amendment religious rights and courageously spoke about about candidates and issues from their pulpits. It is good to know that the IRS has finally caught up to Americans with commonsense.

Although pastors and 501(c)(3) groups still cannot endorse candidates or spend substantial portions of their non-profit budgets on legislative lobbying, they now no longer need to be hesitant about vigorously expressing their views on moral issues to their congregations and constituencies.

Furthermore, they should not be intimidated by the likes of the ACLU or by People for the American Way. This, indeed, is a wonderful victory for religious rights of all Americans.

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