Politicking nonprofit eyed – Tax-free status questioned

When the pastor of a Philadelphia church spoke at the Republican National Convention, he triggered a protest from a church watchdog group who has asked the Internal Revenue Service to review the church’s nonprofit status, the Associated Press reported August 1.

The Rev. Herbert Lusk, pastor at the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, appeared via video feed to endorse George W. Bush for president at the convention on Monday.

“We are supporting Governor Bush, and we are supporting him because we know that he understands we must give faith a chance,” Lusk said.

Churches and other nonprofit groups cannot endorse or oppose candidates for public office. They risk losing their tax-free status if they do so.

Americans for Separation of Church and State, a watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., sent a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti saying that Lusk’s comments warrant an investigation, because his use of the word “we” implies that his church is supporting Bush.

IRS officials declined to comment on the letter, but recently warned nonprofits to be careful about entering politics.

In practice, however, there are many gray areas, particularly in distinguishing between individuals and the organizations they represent.

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