Some of you may remember a brou-ha-ha that arose back in 2007 when Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote letters to six “media-based” church ministries about concerns he had related to financial accountability and policies. The ministries Grassley wrote to were Joyce Meyer Ministries, World Healing Center Church (Benny Hinn), Without Walls International Church (Randy and Paula White), New Birth Missionary Baptist Church (Eddie Long), Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and World Changers Church International (Creflo and Taffi Dollar). Sen. Grassley asked each of these ministries for certain information about their finances and governance. Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn’s ministry answered Grassley’s questions and provided information to the Senator. The other four ministries did not answer Sen. Grassley’s questions out of concerns over religious freedom. You can get a good history of what happened, including all the correspondence back and forth at the Senate’s Finance Committee Website.
ADF was involved in this issue in a tangential way. Members of ADF’s attorney staff met with Sen. Grassley’s staff to offer our assistance and expertise and to share concerns about any outcome of the investigation that may result in additional government oversight or control of churches. Sen. Grassley’s staff was responsive to our concerns.
Not much had happened on this issue, though, since late 2009. The issue appeared to be at a stalemate as four of the ministries were not responding to Sen. Grassley’s requests. The issue, though, has now come to the forefront again as Sen. Grassley has released a report on the investigation. The most significant aspect of the report is Sen. Grassely’s requested appointment of an independent Commission who will “review and provide input on major accountability and policy issues affecting” churches.
The Commission requested by Sen. Grassley will be headed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, of which ADF is a member. According to ECFA, the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations will “address some of the most challenging tax and policy issues involving religious organizations. They include: whether churches should file the same highly-detailed annual information return that other nonprofits must file (Form 990); whether legislation is needed to curb abuses of the clergy housing allowance exclusion; whether the current prohibition against political campaign intervention by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified; and whether legislation is needed to clarify tax rules covering ‘love offerings’ received by some clergy.”
The Chair of the Commission is Mike Batts, managing shareholder of Batts Morrison Wales & Lee, PA, an Orlando-based accounting firm dedicated exclusively to serving nonprofit organizations. He is also former chair of the board of ECFA and is currently a member of ECFA’s board and executive committee. Mr. Batts is a champion of religious liberty and has served non-profits for many years through his firm and his experience with ECFA.
Well, what does this all mean and how does it relate to churches? Should we expect more government oversight and control of churches by the government? Overall, I think this is good news. The ECFA committee will be a better forum to address the concerns raised by Sen. Grassley. And Chairman Mike Batts is one of the best experts in the country on the issues facing churches and religious organizations,and he is fully committed to religious freedom and the rights of churches. ADF has offered its assistance to the Commission and will monitor and assist the Commission as it needs while it works to complete its task.
An additional beneficial development is Sen. Grassley’s question to the Commission regarding whether the political intervention prohibition in 501c3 of the tax code should be repealed or limited. As you know, this relates directly to ADF’s Pulpit Initiative which seeks to overturn this aspect of 501c3 in order to protect the rights of pastors and churches. Senator Grassley’s request joins a growing chorus of legal scholarship concluding that the political intervention prohibition is unconstitutional, unworkable, and should be repealed or seriously limited.
The bottom line here is that the Commission and its Chairman are welcome news to churches and religious organizations concerned about the possible outcomes of the investigation started by Sen. Grassley in 2007 as well as the potential it raised for additional government oversight and control of churches. And it is promising that one of the Commission’s goals is to provide feedback whether the political intervention prohibition in 501c3 should be limited or repealed.
ADF will continue to monitor this issue and will let you know of any significant developments as they arise.
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