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.