Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Did Sarah Palin’s Church Violate the IRS Tax-Exempt Provision?

by Sunnyjane

Though wading through the IRS Tax Code Regulations is a daunting and mind-numbing slog, scrutinizing them against the political activities of the church that was once Sarah Palin’s spiritual home deserves at least a one-eyebrow lift and a collective Hmmm... 

A Close Look at IRS 501(c)(3) Exemptions

According to the Internal Revenue Service, 501(c)(3) exemptions apply to corporations, and any community chest fund (such as United Way), cooperating association or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.  These bodies are often referred to in shorthand form as "Friends of" organizations.  (Whew!)

There is a lot that could be said about what constitutes an association or foundation organized and operated exclusively for religious purposes, given the hate, fear, suspicion, and divisiveness that radiates from some of them, but that is not our mission, nor is the examination of political involvement in other religions or houses of worship.  Rather, the focus here is to examine what evidence we have and ask the question: Did the Wasilla Assembly of God violate IRS statutes pertaining to involvement in political activities.  

The agency seems pretty clear regarding the restrictions on this issue.  The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations: Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.   (It is fair, however,  to question the validity of this particular statement: ...the IRS also monitors whether organizations are complying with the prohibition.)

In another section of the IRS website, it is also stated that:  a section 501(c)(3) organization may not publish or distribute printed statements or make oral statements on behalf of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office.  Consequently, a written or oral endorsement of a candidate is strictly forbidden.  The rating of candidates, even on a nonpartisan basis, is also prohibited.

And a Close Look at Palin's Church

A hurriedly written biography of Sarah Palin, first published in April 2008 while she was still governor, confirms that her re-baptism at age twelve and subsequent regular attendance at the Wasilla Assembly of God for twenty-five years had a tremendous influence on Palin during her formative years.   She became a Wasilla Assembly of God Missionette, led her basketball team in prayer, and signed her high school yearbooks for classmates with Bible verses, taking her own motto from 1Thessalonians 5:16-18: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.  Palin also came to believe during those years that the messages from the pulpit were intended for her. When she prayed, she felt connected and fed by a power beyond herself.   (Whether this is simply the height of conceit, or God was actually into Direct Messaging before the rest of us, we have no way of knowing.)

Although Palin stopped worshiping at the Wasilla Assembly of God on a regular basis in 2002, she occasionally attended conferences, lectures, and special events at the church.  So it was that she just happened to be in the congregation one Sunday in May of 2005 when Rev. Thomas Muthee, the cast-out-the-witches pastor from Kenya, was a guest speaker.   During his sermon, Muthee said that Christians should work to control seven different areas of society, including economics, education, and...government.  (Cue anointing of Sarah Palin.)  Sarah came forward and Muthee prayed that God protect her from every form of witchcraft.  (OK, then!)  That task completed, the pastor switched easily from witches to outright support for her gubernatorial candidacy, saying:  Make her way, my God. Bring finances her way even for the campaign in the name of Jesus ... Use her to turn this nation the other way around.    (Of course, only sneering, eye-rolling progressives would suggest that this did not mean pennies from heaven, but rather dollars from donors.)

Determining if Pastor Ed Kalnins breached the IRS restrictions on churches is strictly for that agency to determine.  However, it is obvious from what sermons we know about (after Palin became the VP candidate in 2008, all video and audio recordings of sermons that took place while she was a regular member were removed from the church's website), that the pastor preached politics from the pulpit.  And there was little subtlety employed in getting his point across.  

Of the aforementioned blessing and barely disguised campaign endorsement for Palin by Rev. Muthee, Kalnins said that Palin’s election as governor was the result of a “prophetic call” by another pastor at the church who prayed for her victory. He made a prophetic declaration and then unfolds the kingdom of God, you know.   

In the 2004 Bush v. Kerry campaign, Kalnins pretty much told his congregation that they'd likely got to Hell if they voted for John Kerry.  I'm not going tell you who to vote for, he said, but if you vote for this particular person, I question your salvation.

After Hurricane Katrina caused enormous destruction and untold suffering and death for thousands of citizens, Bush was roundly criticized for his handling of the disaster.  Kalnins was having no part of it.  Speaking to his parishioners, he stated I hate criticisms towards the president, because it's like criticisms towards the pastor -- it's almost like, it's not going to get you anywhere, you know, except for hell. That's what it'll get you.   (Astute readers will notice the authoritarian use of intimidation in his statement.  Translation: Don't ever question your pastor, or you'll go to hell.)

Even her childhood pastor, who is now retired, was excited by the prospect of his former Missionette's selection as the GOP vice-presidential candidate.  Of the church the Rev. Paul Riley now attends, he said during the campaign: They had a special prayer for her that first Sunday.  The church is continually encouraging people to pray for her.   (Pulpit politicking, anyone?)

But if removing the sermon audio and video recordings from their website was not enough paranoia, Kalnins also warned his congregation during the campaign not to talk with any journalists who might have been lurking in the pews, and directly warned a Salon reporter not to interview any of his flock.


The subject is open for discussion.

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