Some thoughts from the webinar on ECFA’s Commission

Previous posts here and here for background.

There are a few comments worth repeating from the the ECFA’s webinar on the formation of their Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations.  The Commission will provide input to the Senate Finance Committee. A few of my thoughts as well.

Broad input – ECFA will be reaching out very broadly to get as much input as they can. They will be going far beyond their current constituency. This is wonderful. The broader the input the more value when they report back to the Senate Finance Committee.

Political involvement – Discussion of the prohibition on political involvement was great. A reference during their discussion to a change made to the law by Johnson reminded me where this prohibition came from. While he was in the Congress, Lyndon Johnson inserted a provision into a bill that prohibited 501(c)(3) organizations from having any political involvement.  As I recall from a presenter at a seminar a few years ago, he put this into a law as retaliation against an organization that had worked against him in a campaign. From that small beginning we now have this huge issue today. Prior to hearing that speaker I thought there was a constitutional basis for the ban of political involvement and major restriction on legislative involvement. Alas, that is not the case.

Challenge to constitutionality of housing allowance – There is a case working its way through the California courts that is challenging the very constitutionality of the housing allowance concept. It is possible legislation will be needed to protect the clergy housing allowance.

Parallel to founding of ECFA – the letter from Sen. Grassley to ECFA refers to the staff report he received. Apparently the staff report raises very serious issues and suggests legislation is the solution.  (I haven’t read the staff report.) The Senator’s letter (linked at the Commission’s web site) says that voluntary efforts and changes could head off legislation. That is the opportunity for the broad religious community. If we collectively can make some changes then legislation might be averted. That is the same situation in which ECFA came to be. Something similar might grow out of this moment.

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