Ohio's Political Pastors Probed
Thirty-one liberal religious leaders in Ohio contacted the Internal Revenue Service in January, charging that two Columbus-area churches are violating the law by engaging in partisan politics. The ministerial group is seeking an injunction from federal tax commissioner Mark W. Everson to stop the improper activities, and asking the IRS to revoke the churches' tax exempt status.
Rev. Rod Parsley's World Harvest Church and Rev. Russell Johnson's Fairfield Christian Church were considered key to getting out the Ohio vote for Pres. Bush in 2004. The liberal ministers and rabbis charge that these pastors are using their facilities to promote Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican gubernatorial candidate.
The pastors' group drew IRS attention to several church-affiliated groups, including the Ohio Restoration Project, run by Rev. Johnson, which seeks to organize pastors to register 400,000 new Ohio voters. Blackwell has been the only candidate showcased at its events. Although tax-exempt, its stated purposes are to support and promote legislation, with the goal of creating an army of Patriot Pastors" to turn out church voters in this year's statewide elections.
Reformation Ohio, started by Rev. Parsley, has a public goal of winning 100,000 converts, registering 40,000 new voters and "helping the poor."
The liberal pastors and rabbis charge that World Harvest and Fairfield Christian are acting as political campaign organizations.
Among the complaints are that the Fairfield County Republican Party Central Committee met at Fairfield Church last March to fill a precinct vacancy. The church did not charge rent. Last April, the Republican Club of Northwest Fairfield County held a fundraiser at the church.
The IRS permits nonprofit groups to organize events featuring political candidates if all legally qualified candidates are invited. Democratic candidate Brian Flannery has never been invited to such events. Further, IRS regulations caution that an "organization that invites two opposing candidates to speak at this event with the knowledge and expectation that one will not accept the invitation because of well-known opposing viewpoints, may not be considered to have provided equal opportunity to all candidates."
Blackwell has appeared at more than eight events held by the churches or their affiliates since August. He is scheduled to appear in radio ads this spring, promoting "Ohio for Jesus," for the Ohio Restoration Project. He contends the conservative pastors support him because he is antiabortion and the only candidate to support the successful 2004 referendum against same-sex marriage, which is not true.
Massachusetts Rejects Church Audit Bill
The Massachusetts House in late January voted overwhelmingly to defeat an intriguing proposal to require religious organizations to file annual financial reports with the state.
Only three members of the House supported the bill to make churches and religious groups more accountable, following intense lobbying by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and state Council of Churches.
Religious organizations would have been required to file limited information about their finances and real estate holdings every year with the attorney general's charities division. Any organization with annual revenues exceeding $500,000 would have to file detailed annual financial reports. GOP Gov. Mitt Romney had threatened to veto the legislation, inspired by the archdiocese's cover-up of priestly pedophilia. State Sen. Marian Walsh was chief sponsor.
Scrushy Payoffs Involved Pastor
Former HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy secretly paid money through a public relations firm to Rev. Herman Henderson to recruit fellow black preachers into the courtroom to sway the mostly black jury in Scrushy's favor.
Scrushy was acquitted in June in a $2.7 billion accounting fraud scheme at a chain of health clinics, while underlings were convicted.
According to the Associated Press, Scrushy also paid a writer $11,000 through the PR firm to write sympathetic news stories for The Birmingham Times, an influential black newspaper. Scrushy swayed community opinion with a bible study program he hosts on local TV, and a daily show during the trial airing on local access TV.
Henderson was paid $5,000 and his church, Believers Temple Church, and an affiliated thrift store were paid $25,000 during and after the trial. The pastor also employs Audry Lewis, the freelancer who was paid $11,000 by Scrushy to write favorable stories.
Bishop James Johnson of Miracle Deliverers Church in Birmingham attended Scrushy's trial at Henderson's urging. Johnson told AP he was not paid to attend but that Scrushy gave a donation to his church, the amount of which he refused to specify.
Oregon Suicide Law Upheld
The Supreme Court, in a 6--3 vote issued on Jan. 17, rebuffed the Bush Administration and Justice Department's attempt to bar doctors in Oregon from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under Oregon's 1994 assisted suicide law.
The court ruled that then-U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft overstepped his authority by invoking a federal drug law to prosecute doctors prescribing lethal overdoses, in compliance with the Oregon Death With Dignity Law. The law was approved twice by Oregon voters.
Dissenting was a Roman Catholic bloc: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., joining Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the court's most moderate Catholic, who has become its swing voter, sided with the majority.
More than 300 Oregon residents have ended their lives since 1997, when the physician-assisted suicide law went into effect. Oregon is the first and only state to legalize assisted suicide. The law applies only to patients with incurable and irreversible diseases which will cause death within six months. Two doctors must carefully screen the request. The doctors may not administer the lethal dose.
Chavez Orders Out Missionaries
Under a deadline ordered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 40 missionaries with New Tribe Mission left the country on Feb. 12. Chavez accused the U.S. mission of spying for the CIA and exploiting indigenous communities.
Most of the 160 evangelical preachers and their families had already left, at Chavez' request, last October. The New Tribes Mission, based in Florida, has worked for 60 years to convert indigenous groups in the Amazon rainforest to Christianity.
Chavez said the group collected "strategic information" for the CIA and spied for foreign mining and pharmaceutical interests in the mineral-rich regions. He promised the government will take over the abandoned missions to provide water and electricity to the tribes.