Obama, the UCC, and the IRS


Obama UCC.jpgToday the Hartford Courant has bannered across its front page Elizabeth Hamilton’s story on an IRS investigation of the United Church of State (er. make that Christ) resulting from Barack Obama’s address to the annual convention of that denomination (which is his own) last summer. (You can check out the IRS’ February 20 letter here and the speech here.) The UCC was sufficiently scrupulous about trying to separate politicking from non-politicking on this occasion to get a pass from Barry Lynn of Americans United–though, to be sure, Lynn is a UCC minister. Obama did let a remark or two drop that alluded to his campaign, and then there were those Obama staffers soliciting outside the convention hall, but should the UCC be held liable for those things? What seems to have stirred the IRS to action was a complaint by James Hutchins, who runs a conservative watchdog blog called UCCtruths, and who leaked the story to the Courant after, it seems, receiving an anonymous copy of the IRS letter.
According to strict principles of metaphysics, it may be ontologically impossible to distinguish a religious appearance of a presidential candidate before 10,000 co-religionists from a political one. The guy’s running for president right? Fortunately, however, this need not (pace Americans United) be a metaphysical discussion. When a sitting president running for reelection gives a speech somewhere, the law requires a decision to be made whether it’s in the discharge of his official duties (and therefore up to the American people to pay the freight) or a campaign appearance (in which case his re-election committee gets the bill). That fact that any action of a such a president is likely to matter to his reelection is irrelevant. By the standards of what happens every Sunday in the middle of primary or general election season, Obama’s UCC appearance seems de minimis.