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Other churches that had been under IRS review received comparable letters, according to their lawyers.
The IRS stopped publishing the results of its PACI initiative. Three years later the IRS has yet to come up with a new set of church audit rules, making it impossible, experts say, for the agency to pursue such examinations.
Former staff insist that being seen as weak on enforcement of the law would be more damaging to the IRS than any allegation of partisanship would be.
Still, tight budget may have made it easy to put off tackling 501(c)(3) disputes. Others argued the agency may worry it could lose a court case over revocation on constitutional grounds, and that by avoiding such a test they may preserve the deterrent power of having the law on the books.
Whatever the reason, IRS inaction has effectively thwarted the evangelicals' efforts to force the matter in court.
BISHOPS TAKE AIM
At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting last week in Atlanta, bishops vowed to keep up their criticism of Obama administration policies on employer-provided birth control and other controversies.
"The first principle is that American citizens don't lose their freedom of religion or their freedom of expression when they become bishops," said Cardinal Francis George of Chicago.
As to what is and is not acceptable to say about candidates for office, "the guidelines are broader than some may interpret them," George told Reuters at the conference. In follow-up email correspondence, he declined to say whether he thought the IRS rules constrained free speech or whether he would be willing to forgo the church's tax exemption so clerics could speak out without restriction.
The meeting offered no public discussion of an April sermon by Illinois Bishop Daniel Jenky that has been vigorously debated in the local and the religious press and which many think violated the prohibition against opposing a candidate for office. The sermon has drawn a request for an IRS investigation by a watchdog group.
After asserting that Obama, "with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda" seemed to be on an anti-Catholic path similar to Hitler and Stalin, Jenky exhorted all Catholics to "vote their Catholic consciences" this fall.
Do the people in congregations follow such instructions? Only 18 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center in January said the endorsement of a candidate by their minister, priest or rabbi would sway their vote. Seventy percent said it would make no difference.
A second Pew study this spring found that most parishioners would prefer their religious leaders steer clear of electioneering, with Catholics among the most adamant.