It’s Monday, so it must be time for everyone to share last night’s main John Oliver segment and talk about how correct and funny and amazing he is. To be clear, I generally agree with this left-of-center consensus: Oliver’s longform takes on the old Daily Show template are informative, impassioned, and hilarious. I had a mixed response, however, to last night’s segment.
The Alliance Defending Freedom and others have been hard at work for years organizing pastors to challenge (i.e., break) tax laws by electioneering from the pulpit. ADF insists this is about a pastor’s freedom of expression. I’m inclined to land where Amelia Thomson-Deveaux does: You can say anything you want (legally; let’s save theological arguments for another time)—once you give up your tax-exempt status. But Matthew Yglesias takes this a step farther.
It’s true: gay-rights groups, a progressive church and other liberal organizations have received not-so-special attention from the IRS in years past, as well as more recently. It’s true that there’s no clear evidence that IRS staffers were ideologically motivated when they gave special scrutiny to Tea Party groups. It’s true that, by design, the IRS does its work largely independent of the White House—Obama couldn’t fire the people at the Cincinnati office if he wanted to. And yes: “social welfare” nonprofits need more scrutiny and regulation, not less—assuming they should even exist. Still.
When the church has nothing more to say than what could be said in a political speech, the church has surely lost its voice.
Much has been said about Pulpit Freedom Sunday already, but there's still a thing or two to add. First, let's talk about the political and legal aspects of the story. Reuters says it's "not entirely clear" why the IRS hasn't gone after churches making endorsements in recent years. I’d say the reason is actually pretty clear: the U.S. House of Representatives.
An itemized income-tax receipt would say, “So you want to talk about reducing government spending? Talk about these things first.” Which would be a far more focused conversation than we’re having now.