They signed the following letter, which was delivered to committee members this afternoon:
United States Congress
Washington, DC 20002
May 2, 2008
Dear Senate Finance Committee Member:
We write respectfully to let you know of our concerns about the Senate Finance Committee’s investigation into the finances of several churches, all of which share the same branch of evangelicalism, and all of which promote socially conservative public policy positions such as support for the traditional definition of marriage.
While we recognize that some evangelical teachings and socially conservative policy positions are controversial, and that these churches have been the subject of sensational investigative journalism, we are nonetheless concerned that this would possibly justify an investigation outside the normal confines of the Internal Revenue Service and established administrative and judicial procedures. [# More #]
Congress passed the Church Audit Procedures Act in 1984 specifically to discourage politically driven audits of churches. The Act prevents the Internal Revenue Service from initiating an investigation into a church’s finances unless a "high level Treasury official" concludes that there is reasonable cause for such an investigation. The Act also protects a church under investigation from politically motivated leaks during the course of the examination.
We are unaware of any finding by a high-level Treasury Department official that there is reasonable cause to open an investigation of any of these ministries.
We are concerned that the Senate Finance Committee may be setting a dangerous precedent that may be difficult to reverse. For one thing, controversy will always be a part of religious teaching. And religious controversy is something the media will inevitably strive to exploit, since the media feed on controversy and have demonstrated a bias against evangelical Christians. The Committee’s reliance on media reports in targeting subjects for its investigation would therefore only seem to reinforce this unfortunate bias, however unwittingly.
We cannot recall instances in the past where a congressional committee has targeted major ministries under threat of subpoena. The ministries have been asked to produce financial records and internal documents in what appears to be an exercise in disproving their alleged guilt.
Congress has a legitimate role to play in oversight of our laws, including tax laws governing churches. And ministries have the obligation to be transparent in their financial accounting. But the targeting of specific ministries by a congressional committee would seem to intrude on the free exercise of religion guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We believe this is why churches are properly exempt from taxation in the first place -- to prevent governments from using their power to tax as a way to limit the free exercise of religion.
We respectfully ask that investigations into the finances of specific ministries be left with the Internal Revenue Service, overseen and approved by a Treasury Department official who has affirmed that there is reasonable cause for such an investigation, in accordance with the Church Audit Procedures Act.
Paul Weyrich, Chairman, Coalitions for America
Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman, American Family Association
Ken Blackwell, Chairman, Coalition for a Conservative Majority
William Murray, Chairman, Religious Freedom Coalition
Rev. Bill Owens, President, Coalition of African American Pastors
Victoria Cobb, President, The Family Foundation of Virginia
Dr. Gary Cass, Chairman/CEO, Christian Anti-Defamation Commission
Pastor Craig Polston, Kingdom Baptist Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Pastor Bob Emrich, The Maine Jeremiah Project, Emmanuel Bible Baptist Church
Dr. Carl Herbster, President, AdvanceUSA
Anthony Verdugo, Christian Family Coalition
Deal W. Hudson, Director, InsideCatholic.com
Rev. Rick Scarborough, President, Vision America
Star Parker, President, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education
Colin Hanna, President, Pennsylvania Pastors Network
Dr. Danny Forshee, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Lavaca, Arkansas
Sadie Fields, State Chairman, Georgia Christian Alliance
Pastor Jack Knapp, Sandston, Virginia
Larry Cirignano, Founder, CatholicVote
James Martin, President, 60 Plus
George Landrith, President, Frontiers of Freedom
Mathew Staver, Dean and Professor of Law, Liberty University School of Law
Rev. Rob Schenck, National Clergy Council