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Franklin Graham: IRS Targeting of Evangelical Groups is 'Morally Wrong'

( [email protected] ) May 17, 2013 01:14 PM EDT
Franklin Graham wrote on Tuesday in a letter to President Obama that Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.
Franklin Graham (Photo: Rick Diamond, Getty Images)

Franklin Graham wrote on Tuesday in a letter to President Obama that Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, both are tax-exempt organizations, were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.

The Biblical Recorder, the official news journal for North Carolina Southern Baptists, found itself being audited for the first time since the Baptist newspaper was founded in 1833, the Fox News reported.

Graham said in light of recent revelations that the IRS targeted conservative groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names, he does not believe the audit was "a coincidence — or justifiable."

"I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the Administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us." Graham said in the letter. He described the IRS audits as "morally wrong and unethical - indeed some would call it 'un-American.'"

In the run-up to last year's presidential election, the BGEA took out ads in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other newspapers encouraging Christians to vote in line with biblical values. Shortly after the ads were published, both the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse were notified that they were being audited by the IRS.

The ads encouraged voters to "cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel." The ads concluded with these words: "Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me (Billy Graham) that America will remain one nation under God."

Graham said the ads were paid for with funds given by "friends of our ministry for this purpose." He also noted that after the election, they received notification that the organizations would continue to qualify for tax-exemption under federal law and that the tax returns were accepted as filed.

According to Fox News, last summer, the Bible Recorder gained national attention after Allan Blume, its editor, interviewed Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy.

In the interview, Cathy said that he was "guilty as charged" in his support of traditional family values.

The Recorder also published ads from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that backed North Carolina's marriage amendment.

The newspaper then received a phone call from the IRS.

"It raised some red flags and made me wonder why we were being targeted for an audit when we have been around since 1833 and have never been audited before," Blume told Fox News. "Putting it all together made me wonder."

He said the timing might have been coincidental, but "it didn't seem that way."

"There seems to be a very anti-Christian bias that has flowed into a lot of government agencies - oppression literally against Christian organizations and groups," said Blume. "It makes you wonder what's going on."

The IRS eventually cleared all three organzations, but both Graham and Blume noted that the audit cost the ministries money.

"Unfortunately, while these audits not only wasted taxpayer money, they wasted money contributed by donors for ministry purposes, as we had to spend precious resources servicing the IRS agents in our offices," Graham wrote in his letter to Obama.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged that it had targeted conservative organizations applying for tax exemption under section 501(c)4, or the "social welfare" classification.

President Obama, in a statement released Tuesday evening, said he'd had time to review the inspector general's report and found the findings "intolerable and inexcusable.

"The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test," he said.

Obama said in the statement that he had instructed the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General's recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again."