Written by Michelle May
A moderate Baptist group will not have to pay a fine related to alleged violations by members of affiliated churches who traveled to Cuba, the U.S. Treasury Department has decided.
In 2006, the Washington-based Alliance of Baptists received a notice that it could be fined $34,000 because the itineraries of five churches that used its travel license "did not reflect a program of full-time religious activity."
In a May 17 "warning letter," the Office of Foreign Assets Control informed the alliance that "after a careful review of the entire file, OFAC has decided to withdraw the notice."
But Elton A. Ellison, OFAC's assistant director for civil penalties, noted that the Alliance should be aware that any action by the alliance or its affiliates that violates the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba "may result in the imposition of criminal and/or civil penalties."
The Rev. Stan Hastey, executive director of the Alliance, said he was "gratified and grateful" that the issue has been resolved. The alliance had appealed the fine notice.
"According to our attorney ... the determination was made that all five of these groups had been well-intentioned," Hastey said. There may have been "some inadvertent technical violation" of policies, he said, but they were "incidental" to the overall activities of the groups.
The OFAC letter cited itineraries that indicated some persons who traveled under the alliance's license had spent a "significant portion of their time" in tourist activities. The Alliance has denied that.
Hastey said the alliance no longer has a license to travel to Cuba and does not have plans to apply for one. He traveled to the communist island nation last November under a license obtained by his Washington congregation.
The Alliance and other religious groups, including the UCC, have been affected by regulation changes by the Treasury office that have reduced or halted their ability to travel to Cuba.
The UCC, Alliance of Baptists and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are part of ongoing discussions about ecumenical partnership.