Street Fight: Ohio Clergy Seeks End Of Tax Exemption For D.C. Structure Owned By `The Family'
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Feb 23, 2010 at 01:02:05 PM EST
The infamous "C Street house" is back in the news.

A group of clergy in Ohio, aided by a tax lawyer, has written to the Internal Revenue Service today asking the federal tax agency to examine the house's tax-exempt status as a church.

If you're just joining us, the C Street house is a structure in Washington, D.C., owned by a shadowy Religious Right group called "The Family" - a.k.a. the Fellowship Foundation.

The house, formally called the C Street Center, is located near the U.S. Capitol on C Street S.E. Due to the Family's penchant for secrecy, it's unclear what exactly goes on there. We do know that some rooms are rented out to members of Congress at a low rate, and it has been reported that Bible study and prayer meetings occur - but that hardly makes the place a church.

It would be more accurate to say that the C Street Center is a boarding house (or, in light of the recent string of sex scandals involving some of its residents, a frat house). So why does it hold a tax exemption as a church?

That's what the Ohio clergy would like to know. In their letter to the IRS (which was drafted by Marcus Owens, a former IRS official), the members of Clergy Voice assert that the C Street house is "an exclusive club for powerful officials...masquerading as a church."

The house, the clergy say, meets none of the tests the IRS has set forth to determine when a religious group qualifies for tax exemption.

"As we understand it, C Street Center has no recognized creed or form of worship, no distinct ecclesiastical government, and no formal code of doctrine," observes the clergy letter. "To the best of our knowledge, it is not led by ordained ministers, and its leadership is not selected based on the completion of any prescribed studies for the preparation of ministers. We are not aware of it holding regular religious services that are open to the public, it has no Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young, and it has no distinct religious history."

Clergy Voice asserts that the C Street Center is really a boarding house and concludes, "An organization whose chief activity is providing room and board to Members of Congress is not a church."

The Rev. Eric Williams, senior pastor at North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, told The Washington Post he considers this a matter of church-state separation, noting that the Family has used the house to gain undue influence over members of Congress.

"We've got an organization posing as a church," Williams said.

City officials in Washington, D.C., have already decided to take a second look at the C Street house's tax-exempt status. As a result, the city's tax office decided last year to partially tax the house, which is worth $1.8 million.

It's time for the IRS to do the same. Clergy Voice is asking some important question. The IRS should, too.

for disabusing the notion that anything "Christ-like" occurs at that house. Apocalypse-minded conspiracy theorists should quit wasting their time looking to Russia or Obama to find the Anti-Christ, and look towards the place where the Devil would be right at home...

by trog69 on Tue Feb 23, 2010 at 10:33:17 PM EST

I'd like to see the whole tax treatment of churches changed and this is a step in the right direction.

The expenses that churches incur in maintenance should be treated like a business, with deductions for salaries, office supplies, building maintenance, insurance, etc.

The amounts spent on true charity, community service, scholarships, etc. should be tax free.

The rest is profit and should be taxed as such.

I'm sick of pastors living extravagant lifestyles on the taxpayers dime because, technically, the church owns their mansions, yachts, and diamond jewelry.

Churches should have to account for every penny received and spent, and info made available to the public.

Bravo to the Ohio pastors!

by GenieO on Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 11:06:57 AM EST

Most churches don't have profits - prophets occasionally, but not profits. The little and medium sized churches (and synagogues, mosques, and temples) that are the majority of congregations in this country would have very, very little to contribute to the tax base. And taxing property would make it that much harder for many of these congregations to do the work they feel called to do - living out Matthew 25:31-46 and equivalents in other religious traditions.

Frankly, unless there were a cap placed on ministers' compensation packages (including housing allowances), above which churches would have to pay a tax penalty and the rate for ministers went up substantially, I don't see how taxing churches is going to change the obscenity of flashy living exhibited by relatively few people.

by RevRuthUCC on Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 03:09:36 PM EST

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