What, legally, makes a church a church?

When does a cult or that matter, a bunch of guys hanging around giving each other Hitler high fives become a church in the legal sense of not having to pay taxes? I don’t think the World Church of the Creator makes the cut, but what are the hard numbers it needs to become a religion in the eyes of the law?

A really definitive answer would be able to quote the actual IRS regulations on what organizations are recognized as tax-exempt churches, and which aren’t.

Since I don’t have that, I’ll have to give you my best guess. To be recognized as a tax-exempt church would probably require the following two principles.
(1). NON-PROFIT. Of course, how much money you’re salaried as the head of your church is a slippery issue.
(2). RELIGIOUS. Or more specificly, not using a thin facade of religion to say, do political fundraising. I believe the Moral Majority got in trouble recently over that.

I’ll try to narrow(?!) the question down more while using both those points.

1)At what level of “non-profit” do you have to be? Getting a gang of guys together in a club house and swilling beer is also non-profit, but there’s more to it than that.

2)Who can say when and where and how the spirit will move me? If I can get enough people together to worship my cat, why can’t that be a religion?

What country are you talking about???

If you can get one person to worship your cat it is a religion.One thing the US govt. will require is some kind of creed. The American Church of Universal Life has the Creed;
1 Every one should do as God wants.
2 No one has the right to tell another what god wants.
You’ll also need to show that you aren’t calling yourself a church just to get out of some taxes or duties.ACUL had some difficulty over that.
REV.John,ACUL (since 1968)

“Who can say when and where and how the spirit will move me? If I can get enough people together to worship my cat, why can’t that be a religion?”

Well if the Scientologists can get away with it, anyone can. Maybe you ought to have your cat fitted for a throne.


this space for rent

MR JOHN We’re getting closer! What did the ACUL have to do to be legally a church?

It’s not like there’s some kind of form you have to fill out or inspection to pass. “Church” is not a legal term; anybody who says they’re a church, is.

The only time it comes in question is if the IRS or somebody suspects them of trying to cheat on taxes or something; then they look at the criteria Lumpy named. (And yes, the IRS was going to take the MM to court to try to prove they were primarily political; the MM ceded and gave up tax-exempt status.)

“It all started with marbles in school…”

Maybe I can get several cats together to worship me. That would sort of have to be non-profit, wouldn’t it?


Ah, cats are faithless creatures and only show concern when you’re opening up a can of food.

And it’s not that I’m looking to start any new religions - there’s more than enough to go around – but I am curious about them.

I suppose I should have asked what’s the difference between a cult and a religion and at what point does a cult become a religion. And getting back to the main question: at what point does the US Government recognize your religion as a religion?

Maybe the government doesn’t distinguish between religions and cults. Maybe it’s the media that does that.

Gasp! But that implies that the Government and the Media aren’t joined at the hip…

which is an entirely different subject.

You have three options:
a) Incorporate under the religious corporations law of your state.
b) File with the IRS for 501©(3) status as a religious organization, and jump through the appropriate hoops to demonstrate that it is a bona fide religious org.
c) Call yourself one, and wait for someone to disprove it. (Legally, in most places, a group can use any name it chooses so long as there is no intent to defraud.)

Well to answer your question about IRS guidelines. Here’s what they say!

A cult is a religion with no political power. Best defintion I’ve heard, anyhow. Christianity was considered a cult (by others; no one considers their own religion a cult) until it got powerful; so was Judaism.

“Eppur, si muove!” - Galileo Galilei

Thanks guys! You’ve been most helpful.

Speaking as someone who’s spent a fair amount of time around cats, I can safely say: no chance in hell!

You can get a cat to like you. To play games with you. To enjoy your company even. But at the end of the day, the cat considers itself the higher form of life. It won’t worship you.

peas on earth

Bantmof, I take your point.

Q: What is the difference between a cat and a dog?
A: A dog thinks, “My person feeds me, provides me a warm place to stay, pets me… he must be God!” A cat thinks, “My person feeds me, provides me a warm place to stay, pets me… I must be God!”