Two Atlanta preachers with large media ministries snubbed a U.S. senator’s request for documents sought in a probe of nonprofits.
In response, the preachers say Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is crossing the line of separation between church and state.
The Rev. Creflo Dollar, of World Changers Church International in College Park, and Bishop Eddie Long, of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, were among six media ministries from which Grassley requested records a month ago.
Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has investigated other nonprofits for misuse of funds.
His letters to the ministries note the leaders’ lavish lifestyles of flying in private jets, driving expensive cars and living in mansions.
He has raised concerns of whether the ministries were complying with all the laws that govern nonprofits.
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Three others churches — led by the Rev. Binny Hinn, of Texas, Randy and Paula White, of Florida, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, of Texas — had not turned in records as of Thursday, the deadline for Grassley’s request.
An Associated Press report says Hinn said he will respond in early 2008.
Only Joyce Meyer, of Missouri, has complied.
Attorneys for Dollar and Long sent letters in response.
The letter from Dollar’s attorney expresses concern about giving documents to the government, explaining such action could trample on the constitutional rights of people to practice religious beliefs without government interference.
– The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10 NIV
The letter says the six ministries targeted preach the “…‘Prosperity Gospel,’ a deeply held religious belief that God’s devout followers and earthly leaders will prosper and be successful in all they do, including in financial matters, as the outward expression of his favor.”
It went on to say, “… we believe that the religious doctrine and practices of a church should not be held out for the world to evaluate as a result of responding to Congressional inquiries.”
It says Grassley should get a subpoena or to refer his request for a review to the Internal Revenue Service.
A written response from Long’s attorney says Grassley’s request is informal, and that it “clearly disregards the privacy protections of the Church under law and appears to cross the line of Constitutional guarantees for churches.”
Mac Hunter, of Atlanta’s Morris, Manning & Martin office, said by phone he believes the letter is a sufficient reply to Grassley’s request.
Grassley said he is not interested in doctrine. He wants to make sure media ministries are not abusing their tax-exempt status.
He believes he has a right to review records because when non-profits get tax breaks, the general public has to pick up the financial slack.
“I have an obligation to protect the integrity of U.S. tax laws,” Grassley said in a written statement. “If tax-exempt organizations, including media-based ministries, thumb their noses at the laws governing their preferential tax treatment, the American public, their contributors and the Internal Revenue Service have a right to know. Considering tax-exempt media-based ministries today are a billion-dollar industry with minimal transparency, it would be irresponsible not to examine this tax-exempt part of our economy.”
Meyer took an opposite stance from Dollar. She turned over records Tuesday.
In a written statement, Meyer said the ministry embraces “… this latest opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to transparency with our supporters and our dedication to the continual improvement of our own systems of accountability.”