The Internal Revenue Service has told a pastor in Warroad, Minn. it's closed an inquiry into complaints that he was preaching politics from the pulpit in violation of federal tax law.
The inquiry began last year after Pastor Gus Booth told congregants at the Warroad Community Church they should campaign and vote for Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
Booth was participating in an event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of conservative legal advocates who say that clergy should be allowed to preach about the "moral qualifications of candidates seeking political office."
In his sermon, Booth said McCain's positions line up more closely with Biblical teachings on homosexuality and abortion than do those of Democrat Barack Obama.
All told, 33 pastors in 22 states made pointed recommendations about political candidates in an effort orchestrated by the Alliance, which is based in Arizona.
On Wednesday, an IRS spokeswoman in St. Paul would not comment on the details of the case.
In a letter to Booth, the IRS said it was dropping the matter because of a procedural issue in initiating the inquiry. The IRS left the door open to a future examination if the procedural issue is resolved. It was not specific about the issue.
Congress amended the tax code in 1954 to state that certain nonprofit groups, including secular charities and places of worship, can lose their tax-exempt status for intervening in a campaign involving candidates.
Under the IRS code, places of worship can distribute voter guides, run nonpartisan voter registration drives and hold forums on issues, among other things. However, they cannot endorse a candidate, and their political activity cannot be biased for or against a candidate, directly or indirectly - a sometimes murky line.
The agency has stepped up oversight of political activity in churches in recent years after receiving a flurry of complaints from the 2004 campaign. The IRS reported issuing written advisories against 42 churches for improper politically activity in 2004.
The ban on churches intervening in candidate campaigns survived a court challenge when a U.S. appellate court upheld the revocation of tax-exempt status of a New York church that took out a newspaper ad urging Christians to vote against Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)