The IRS has expanded the investigation into Florida internet evangelist Bill Keller of Liveprayer, to now include comments Keller made about the faith of Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
In February of this year, the IRS launched an investigation into whether Keller violated his ministries tax exempt status when he declared "a vote for Romney is a vote for Satan." Keller defended those comments, stating that he has never told anyone who to or not to vote for or ever endorsed a candidate, but used that phrase in context to warn people that following the teachings of the Mormon cult will lead a person's soul to hell.
Keller is clearly frustrated by the expansion of the IRS' investigation, stating that he and his attorneys complied fully with their request for extensive documents and clarification on his comments about Romney back in February. He had anticipated getting a clean bill of health from the IRS by this time since the issue was pretty simple, they either feel he did or did not violate his exemption by making those comments. Instead, Keller received a whole new package of requests for documents and questions to be answered, stating that the IRS had been unable to resolve if in fact he had violated his exemption. The new questions all had to do with comments made by Keller about the faith of Senators Obama and Clinton.
Keller stated, "Senators Obama and Clinton have been in the public, aggressively promoting that they were people of faith. Obama especially, has had a clear strategy to promote himself as a Christian. I have every right and responsibility under my exemption to deal with their statements and educate the public on these issues. You certainly can't expect a Biblically illiterate press to hold them accountable on these issues, especially when they lie to the public about their beliefs." Keller added, "The fact is, I have also spoken about Senator McCain's statements about his faith. The problem the IRS has is that I have been consistent in speaking out on these spiritual issues regarding all political candidates who have chosen to make their faith an issue."
The expansion of Keller's activities comes in the wake of an effort by a Christian advocacy groups plan to test a U.S. legal prohibition on clergy endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
The Alliance Defense Fund maintains that the ban is unconstitutional and plans to try to make its point by having several pastors violate the Internal Revenue Service rule Sept. 28. Keller does not agree with the ADF strategy, stating that pastors have every right to speak out on the
spiritual issues of the day, even dealing specifically with political candidates, without telling people who to or not to vote for or endorsing anyone.
Some of the questions both the media and the IRS will have trouble answering are obvious. First, Keller never said not to vote for Romney, rather he only said which realm of the spirit a vote for Romney would benefit.
Secondly, why is Keller being investigated when a plethora of churches have publicly announced their choices for candidates before their congregants and some well known ministers have also announced their choices of specific presidential hopefuls?
Why shouldn't Bill Keller and any other ministers and ministries see this as an effort on the part of the IRS to keep clergy from speaking out on anything to do with politics? Must ministries give up first amendment rights to retain a 501-C status?
What do Bill and other ministers really think of the ADF (Alliance Defense Fund) method of dealing with this investigation and what are some of the possible ramifications if they are successful?
Lastly, what will Bill Keller actually do if they decide against him? What will become of the ministries he has spent years developing?
These looming questions are on the minds of quite a few other clergy as well and it is a controversy that we will certainly hear more about in the upcoming days.
Copyright ©2008 Rev. Michael Bresciani