Caught In The Web: Partisan Pulpit Politicking Surfaces Online For The World -- And The IRS -- To See

This means that sermons broadcast on the Web that churches hope will open the doors to new followers also opens the doors for watchdogs to easily discover tax code transgressions with a basic Google search.

At the end of this week, the Republican National Convention will come to a close and move the 2008 election season into its final months.

With the new VP picks on the tickets and the buzz surrounding the conventions, it wouldn't be surprising if more religious leaders have the urge to spout off on their picks for the president (and vice president) from the pulpit.

Thankfully, The New York Times kindly reminded pastors and other religious leaders that the Internal Revenue Service and Americans United will be watching -- even on the Web.

Churches and other religious groups only receive a tax exemption so long as they do not endorse candidates from the pulpit, and now that pulpit extends to the Internet, The Times reported.

The IRS issued new guidelines last month directed toward Web sites of tax-exempt groups. The IRS said if "a 501(c)(3) organization posts something on its Web site that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, the organization will be treated the same as if it distributed printed material, oral statements or broadcasts that favored or opposed a candidate."

This means that sermons broadcast on the Web that churches hope will open the doors to new followers also opens the doors for watchdogs to easily discover tax code transgressions with a basic Google search.

The Times reports on AU's work in monitoring the Internet to discover these violations. Since May, AU has discovered multiple infractions on-line and has filed complaints with the IRS

For example, AU discovered that New York Pastor James David Manning had denounced Senator Barack Obama to his Atlah World Ministries congregation as a "pimp" and his mother as a "trashy white woman" by viewing the sermon on YouTube.

AU learned about Bill Keller Ministries' smear against Mitt Romney ("If you vote for Mitt Romney, you are voting for Satan!") from ministry emails and from the Florida-based group's Web site, LivePrayer.com.

AU learned of Texas pastor Maury Davis' pulpit remarks supporting three parishioners running for school board after a local newspaper saw a video of the sermon on the Church's Web site.

Religious Right organizations are pushing the envelope on pulpit partisanship this year. The Alliance Defense Fund's Erik Stanley told The Times that "in church it is the pastor who should determine what is said, not the the IRS."

That's true, so long as the church doesn't want a tax exemption. But the exemption is a privilege, and with that privilege, comes limitations -- even on the World Wide Web.