ADF's Pulpit Initiative - Churches Challenge the IRS

Standard disclaimers apply: apologies if there is already a thread started on this that I missed, and please be gentle with me on my first GD OP.

From here:

And from the ADF Website:

For debate: Well, anything relevant, I suppose. Should churches be allowed to support specific candidates and initiatives without risking their tax exempt status? Should doing so be protected as free speech, or should it be considered inappropriate for its potential impact on free elections in the US? Should the matter continue to be under the purvue of the IRS, or should legislators and the courts more directly address the issues at hand? Will this protest be an issue for this year’s elections?

You got your constitutionally protected freedom of worship and freedom of speech, but I am unfamiliar with a constitutionally protected freedom from taxation. Preachers are undeniably free to say whatever they like from the pulpit. Whether a church is taxable or not is entirely up to how tax laws are written by legislators and enacted by the IRS.

So what’s the debate, exactly?

I would be very surprised if there were even the ghost of a constitutional argument here. There is, on the other hand, a tax policy issue, but I don’t see that forbidding tax exempt entities from direct political campaigning is bad tax policy. Indeed, allowing direct campaigning raises the specter of faux-religious groups being formed specifically to campaign, which strikes me as rather repugnant.

I’m a member of the United Church of Christ, Obama’s church.

So, I"ve sat through plenty of political sermons.

May as well allow the pastor to actually endorse the person they want to win.

If they want to play, they have to pay. Charge 'em. Tax the “church” to hell and back to heaven, I say.

Otherwise I’m starting my very own Church of the Sacred Cow so I can collect money and not pay taxes, too.

Oh, and welcome to GD, George.

Thanks, Bo.

I think there’s definitely at least a ghost of a constitutional argument being raised, in that what the ADF is protesting involves a federal agency making rules about free speech and about religious organizations. Kinda First-Amendmenty, it seems to me.

\What I don’t know is whether this action or this group will actually create enough traction to get courts, legislators, and/or the public to consider a change to the IRS regulations, although that certainly seems to be what the ADF is aiming for.

From here:


Are they right in claiming the tax-exempt status of churches is constitutionally guaranteed, regardless of any direct campaigning or endorsement from the pulpit? Should it be guaranteed? What about other political activities by tax-exempt religious organizations (faux or not), no matter how repugnant?

Or, in another light, are these guys just a bunch of blowhards who will, rightly, fail to affect any significant change to the current pragmatic solutions (compromises?) in place to regulate the tax status of political campaigning organizations?

Let them say what they want. I agree that tax exempt status should not not hinge on what they say politically from the pulpit. That was Johnson’s thing wasn’t it? I don’t think they should be tax exempt but that’s another matter. Some believers will accept their pastors opinion and some won’t. I remember a story four years ago about a pastor in some southern church making some ridiculous statement about voting for Bush means you’re a real Christian and several members walked out. Let the congregations decide what kind of discussion and sermons they want. I think any kind of dialog can be helpful.

I don’t quite get what you mean by this - the legislators have already spoken on this issue - it’s a law passed by Congress that’s in issue. The IRS is the executive agency charged with enforcing this law, but the IRS didn’t just make it up - it was enacted by Congress and is potentially enforced by the courts, if a complaint is lodged.

US Code, Title 26, s. 501

Let churches have no special privilege as churches, but the exact same tax status as other organizations purporting to be not-for-profit, and let them be subject to the exact same rules, including those regarding political activity. That’s fair all around.

Thanks for the handy cite.

I just meant to ask if the legislators should consider speaking on the issue again, modifying the relevant tax law, which seems to me what the ADF’s goals would require. I apologize for any unintentional loaded wording on my part.

If you actually read Section 501, you will see that that is already the case. “Religious” is included along with “charitable” and “scientific,” but the section still requires that the purpose of the organization must be exclusively for that purpose.

Yes, but I was referring to the churches’ tax status at all levels – including local property tax.

I have never agreed with the tax exempt status. Watching the Father drive his new Cadillac to his huge church bought home nestled nicely outta the way from the row homes of his parishioners, kinda bugged me.

I also think that if my preacher would start spouting politics I would walk out, it’s like politics in GQ, it’s not what I am there for. Doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with the views.

I hope the IRS rewrites the tax code, let’s them campaign. Make them pay taxes on everything except the money being actually used as a charity for others.

That’s the situation right now. The IRS also assumes that churches, in general, are a benefit to the community, non-political, and commonly involved in acts of charity (running soup kitchens, keeping kids out of crime, organizing community activities) and so should get the same tax benefits as charities. Churches in this country must be careful not to exceed their basic status as nonpolitical nonprofit organizations or risk losing their tax-exempt status.

Sounds like the churches are taking out a dare on the IRS to have the political acorns to enforce the statute. I can imagine that a number of religious leaders see the possibilities as either (a) if the IRS dares not act in the first place, the statute becomes dead letter; or (b) if the IRS does act, then they get to rend their garments, pour ash on their hair and cry “persecution!”, “War on Christianity”, etc., funds are raised, articles are published, memberships are energized and eventually the elected politicians knuckle under and cut the IRS off. They are counting on that there will not be the political will in this country for alternative © Elected legislators tell noncomplying churches to take a hike.

Interestingly, the first people who have declared their intention to protest the ADF to the IRS–even before the ACLU–have been a number of other religious leaders.

A shameless bump- has anyone heard anything about this since? Is the ACLU getting involved? Has the IRS made a statement?

I think that this is going to have to come down to a Supreme Court case. The free establishment clause, which provides for freedom of religion does not mention the issue of taxation. However, there is an early supreme court case that established that the power of taxation could lead to the destruction of the taxed entity. For this reason, when the Federal government taxed state governments, the states took the case to the supreme court and got the tax on state governments defeated. I am googling it and it isn’t coming up.

If we accept that premise from that case, then the power to tax a church leads to the power to destroy the church, which means that congress has made a law that gets in the way of the practice of religion.

Do you know which case, exactly? I would love to read the opinion.

You’ve got it flipped: the Court held that the states could not tax a federal agency, in this case the Second Bank of the United States. The case was M’Culloch v. Maryland.

The Court made two very important conclusions:

  1. the Constitution gave the fedral government the power to establish a bank;

  2. once established, the Bank was not subject to state taxes, because that would enable the states to nullify the bank, hence the dictum, “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”

Never mind.