BALTIMORE: NAACP keeps tax-exempt status

When NAACP Chairman Julian Bond delivered a scathing critique of the Bush administration’s policies regarding the Iraq war, education and the economy at the civil rights organization’s 2004 convention, he did not think the first call he would get would be from the Internal Revenue Service. Two years ago, the IRS initiated an extensive investigation and, as with the All Saint’s Church, threatened to reverse the NAACP’s tax-exempt status.

Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars later, the IRS concluded the NAACP did not violate the rules and it will keep its tax status. The decision came six weeks after Bush addressed the NAACP’s 2006 convention for the first time in his presidency.

“It’s disappointing that the IRS took nearly two years to conclude what we knew from the beginning: the NAACP did not violate tax laws and continues to be politically nonpartisan,” said CEO Bruce S. Gordon.

Marcus S. Owens, an attorney with Caplin and Drysdale and former head of the IRS’s tax exempt division for 10 years, said, “I find it extremely unusual, the circumstances under which the audit was begun — the timing of it, the nature of the allegations.” He pointed out that while the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute were “pumping out press releases” supporting Bush’s policies during the 2004 campaign, only the NAACP was singled out.

“It just leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth,” he added.

Included among the audit documents were letters from Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and U.S. Reps. JoAnn Davis (R-Va.) and Larry Combest (R-Texas) either calling for an IRS probe or conveying requests by one or more of their constituents for a probe.

PASADENA, Calif.: IRS threatens church for antiwar sermon

During the 2004 presidential election campaign, former All Saints’ Episcopal Church rector Dr. George Regas, appearing as a guest speaker, strongly condemned the Iraq war. At no time did he urge parishioners to vote for a candidate. That prompted an IRS audit.

Looking out from the pulpit at over 900 congregants, current rector Rev. Ed Bacon devoted his Sept. 17 sermon to the just-received threat by the IRS to pull the church’s tax exempt status based on the audit.

Bacon told reporters after the sermon, “These people are offended. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion have been assaulted by this act of the IRS and I think my people want to be heard in court.”

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which has filed 58 complaints for politicking in church over the last 15 years, said they were surprised by the IRS probe.

“What perplexes me,” said Barry Lynn, the group’s spokesman, “is that I have never heard of a church being asked to undergo such a sweeping, broad and deep investigation on the basis of a complaint about a single sermon by a guest speaker.”

With Bacon due in court Oct. 11, the 3,500 member church is debating how to proceed. “It’s a very tough call we have to make,” said Bob Long, All Saints’ senior layman and a retired attorney. “But we’re at the point where they really are trampling on our constitutional rights.”

TUCSON, Ariz.: Victory in border rescue case

Calling the federal prosecution unfair, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins dismissed all charges against Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, two volunteers with the Tucson-based humanitarian group No More Deaths, on Sept. 1.

Sellz and Strauss were arrested July 9, 2005, while medically evacuating three sick migrants from the Arizona desert. The men were found several miles north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, severely dehydrated and unable to hold down water.

Volunteer doctors instructed Sellz and Strauss to bring the men to a Tucson clinic after it was determined they needed more care than what could be administered in the field.

At the time of their arrest, the two volunteers were following a protocol that had been previously agreed to by the U.S. Border Patrol.

In his ruling, Judge Collins states that Sellz and Strauss had made reasonable efforts to ensure that their actions were not in violation of the law, and that further prosecution would violate their due process rights.

Isabel Garcia, a leader of Tucson’s immigrant rights group Coalicion del Del Derechos Humanos, hailed the judge’s decision but noted that immigrants are still being persecuted every day.

She called for solutions that will create a just society and keep people from needing to leave their homes and risk death in a hostile environment.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( Joe Bernick contributed.