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US tax service clears United Church of Christ over Obama speech


The US Internal Revenue Service has cleared the United Church of Christ of violating tax laws when it allowed Democratic Party presidential hopeful Barack Obama to address the denomination’s 2007 general synod.

"We have determined that the activity about which we had concern did not constitute an intervention or participation in a political campaign," the IRS said in a 13 May letter released by the 1.2-million-member Cleveland-based denomination.

US churches are exempt from paying federal taxes but must adhere to rules that prohibit the formal endorsement of candidates running for public office.

Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ. He was one of 60 speakers, including artists, writers, scholars, and business people and others, who addressed the June 2007 denominational assembly about how religious faith grounded their vocations.

In launching its investigation of the UCC, the IRS had said there was "reasonable belief" that the denomination had "engaged in political activities that could jeopardise its tax-exempt status".

The Rev. John H. Thomas, the denomination’s general minister and president, said in a 21 May statement that he welcomed the IRS finding that the UCC had not breached tax laws.

"This is very good news," said Thomas. "We are pleased that the IRS reviewed the complaint quickly and determined, as we expected, that the church took every necessary precaution and proactive step to ensure that Senator Obama’s appearance at General Synod was proper and legal."