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Inquiry Worries Media Ministers

Religious broadcasters wary of finance probe 12/07/2007 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Frank Wright, president of National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), is concerned that a Senate inquiry into media ministries could impinge on constitutional protections of freedom of religion.

Wright expressed those concerns in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and other members of the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley contacted six TV ministries to request financial information following allegations that the governing boards of some ministries that preach a “wealth” gospel allow leaders to pull down big salaries and housing allowances, including benefits like private jets and Rolls-Royces.

While pointing out that none of the half-dozen ministries cited were members of his organization, Wright said he was concerned about the “broader implications” of the inquiry, adding that the questiopns from Grassley violate First Amendment religion clauses that provide protection from government surveillance and intrusion.”

NRB general counsel Craig Parshall said in a release that Grassley's “overly broad” approach uses “an ax rather than a scalpel” in addressing the issue of the tax-exempt status of nonprofit religious groups, and IRS audit procedures are already in place to deal with the issue.

“We hope this is not a prelude to congressional hearings and possible legislation that would erode the cherished protections that religious ministries enjoy under the First Amendment,” Parshall said in relaying the NRB's concerns.

It's unclear how many of the six TV ministries contacted by Grassley, ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, have sent the financial information he asked for.

“I don't want to conclude that there's a problem,” Grassley said in announcing the inquiry. “But I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more.”

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