As churches get political, IRS stays quiet

The situation is fraught with peril for the IRS, which needs to be seen as apolitical. When it cracks down on political activities proscribed by the 501(c)(3) regulations, it is inevitably branded as partisan.

When the target is a church, mosque or synagogue, enforcement puts two fundamental American values at odds: freedom of speech and the separation of church and state. Although the agency has enforced the tax-exemption rules against churches in the past, it has so far ignored the provocations of Freedom Sunday.

The IRS has also been silent about the increasingly aggressive political activity of the U.S. Catholic bishops, who have called for their own Fortnight for Freedom this week. Masses, rallies, and parish bulletins are being mobilized against the Obama administration’s healthcare regulations on contraceptives.

The result of agency inaction, according to tax experts and former IRS staffers, will be a lot more electioneering by leaders of the faithful, in local races as well as national, and to the benefit of Democrats as well as Republicans.