IRS Targeted Billy Graham, America's Pastor
By Bill Hughes/AP
PADUCAH, KY; BOONE, NC - Two conservative religious groups with ties to the area have claimed this week that they have faced unusual scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service.
The son of Rev. Billy Graham and leaders of the Jewish organization Z Street say they believe the IRS targeted them because they advocated for conservative causes.
In a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama, the Rev. Franklin Graham says the charities he and his father built may have received extra scrutiny from the IRS because they advocated against gay marriage. Billy Graham appeared in newspaper ads last fall urging support for candidates who oppose abortion and support the nation of Israel.
The Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Samaritan's Purse, a humanitarian relief organization, both received word of audits on the same day - not long after the BGEA ran the advertisements.
"In light of what the IRS admitted to on Friday, May 10, 2013, and subsequent revelations from other sources, I do not believe that the IRS audit of our two organizations last year is a coincidence - or justifiable," Franklin Graham wrote.
Members of Z Street filed a lawsuit in 2010 after the group's application for tax-exempt status stalled. The group's president, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, told Fox News that she believes her organization was targeted because of its views on Israel.
Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for Billy Graham, said it was was the first time the ministry had ever been audited in its history. Although the IRS eventually cleared both organizations of any suspicion, he said taxpayer money was wasted, and both organizations had to use donated funds to assist the auditors.
Ron Beaton was Chairman of the Four Rivers Celebration Executive Committee in 2007, when Franklin's son Will Graham preached in Paducah for several days. Beaton said the entire issue is troubling.
"I'm sorry that BGEA and Samaritan's Purse had to use some of their donated dollars to deal with the IRS and take time and precious resources away from the ministries that they both do so well. Both have been actively involved in our part of the country," Beaton said.
Samaritan's Purse provides disaster relief worldwide, and by some accounts did a better job than the U.S. Government helping Haitians after a devastating earthquake hit that country in 2010. The organization also runs Operation Christmas Child, which is very popular in the area. Individuals and organizations pack shoe box gifts for impoverished children, and millions of boxes are distributed worldwide each year.
Beaton, a former journalist, was also concerned about another controversy in Washington, D.C.
"It was a troubling week in general for our individual freedoms, when we found out about what had been going on with the IRS, and also the scandal with the Justice Department making the sweeping collection of Associated Press personnel's telephone numbers. Those two issues hit right at the heart of our individual freedoms."
Beaton referred to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to be "left alone" by the government, unless already specified in the U.S. Constitution. While recognizing that we all want to be kept safe, and understand national security must be maintained, Beaton said there have to be boundaries that are honored and respected, especially for members of the press to objectively report the news.
Beaton said, "We don't expect the government to be intruding unnecessarily on the freedom of the press and the freedom of all of us to find out information that we need to know. So, I hope that this certainly leads to more clear boundaries, and so that something like this doesn't happen again."
When asked if someone might have a second-thought about their involvement in a non-profit ministry because of the IRS scandal, he said it's possible, because that person might not want to be asked probing questions about private matters, or about their friends and colleagues. Beaton said these type of controversies can create more distrust in government.
"Unless it caused some people who really were bothered by this to run for office or be more involved, and to try to have people in office who would not promote intrusive searches like this - in a backwards way, there could be a small bit of good that comes out of this." Beaton said.