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Senate Probe Of Church Finances Called An Attack On Religious Freedom

ATLANTA (AP) _ Bishop Eddie Long, one of several ministers targeted by a Senate investigation into possible financial wrongdoing, called the request for records unjust and intrusive.

In a brief address to his congregation at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia during a Sunday service, Long said Sen. Charles Grassley's request for financial information was ``an attack on our religious freedom and privacy rights.''

It was Long's first comment on the investigation beyond a statement issued last week saying he would cooperate with the request.

Grassley has asked for documents from five other ministries around the country, including the Rev. Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International in College Park. The other four are: Randy and Paula White of Florida, the Rev. Benny Hinn, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Texas, and David and Joyce Meyer of Missouri.

Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, began his investigation after receiving tips about preachers spending lavishly.

Grassley said stories of excessive lifestyles and spending by ministry leaders caused him to wonder whether the tax breaks given to ministries were being abused. He has questioned other charities in previous years, including the Red Cross and the United Way.

Grassley said he is not interested in religion or doctrine, only the tax issues. But Long isn't buying it.

Dollar said he has released his church's finances in response to the Senate investigation. He said his salary comes from personal investments, including businesses and real estate ventures. He said the church did give him a Rolls Royce, which he uses largely for special occasions.
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