Deeper into the church-state inferno

BY TERRY MATTINGLY Modified: June 6, 2013 at 9:03 am •  Published: June 6, 2013
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In recent years, religious conservatives have been accused of turning projects linked to their teachings on abortion and marriage into vaguely partisan efforts to oppose Obama, while indirectly supporting his opponents.

Thus, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the global Samaritan's Purse humanitarian project faced IRS review -- for the first time ever. During the most recent White House campaign, the Graham organization ran ads against gay marriage in North Carolina. In one, the elder Graham was quoted saying: "I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman."

In a letter to Obama, the Rev. Franklin Graham claimed: "I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical -- indeed some would call it 'un-American.' ... I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence -- or justifiable."

Meanwhile, on the religious left, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State is convinced that the younger Franklin is -- no coincidence at all -- drawing justifiable scrutiny because of "his disgust with President Obama."

While the Graham ads didn't mention politicians by name, this was "clearly an effort by one of the Graham families' tax-exempt groups to directly affect the outcome of the election," he argued in the "On Faith" forum at The Washington Post website. "If this brazen action led to IRS scrutiny, I'm fine with that. My only regret is that the agency didn't yank the BGEA's tax-exempt status for doing so.

"The problem isn't that the IRS is being too aggressive in this area," said Lynn. "It's that its enforcement efforts have been sporadic, unfocused and tepid."

(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Kendra Phipps at kphipps@amuniversal.com.)

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