The United Church of Christ is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service over a speech Senator Obama gave at a church conference in June:
The IRS has notified the UCC that it has opened an investigation into Obama's address at the UCC's 2007 General Synod in Hartford, Conn., the UCC said yesterday.Read it at The Trail a political blog of the Washington Post.
According to a copy of an IRS letter that the church received Monday, the IRS is launching the inquiry "because reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status."
Under federal law, churches are barred from becoming directly or indirectly involved in campaigns of political candidates.
According to a text of the speech posted on the church's Web site, Obama promised to sign a universal health care bill in his first term as president, and he denounced the Iraq war.
The UCC has issued a press release announcing the creation of a legal defense fund:
In a Feb. 27 letter to members and supporters, General Minister and President John H. Thomas said the fund was necessary "to ensure that money given for mission will not be needed to pay legal bills, instead of ministry needs."
"In order to adequately defend ourselves as well as protect the broader principle of the freedom of religious communities to entertain questions of faith and public life, we will need to secure expert legal counsel, and the cost of this defense, we are told, could approach or exceed six figures," Thomas wrote. "This is troubling news."
In an introduction before Obama's speech, Thomas said Obama was invited as "one of ours" to provide reflections on "how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service."
Thomas said the IRS's investigation implies that Obama, a UCC member, is not free to speak openly to fellow UCC members about his faith.
In its reporting on the speech at the time the AP wrote
“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before a national meeting of the United Church of Christ.