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Sign this petition!

You know, if I violated tax law and then flaunted the fact to the IRS, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll get slammed down hard and fast. So why do churches get a free pass?

Since 2008, pastors of some churches have openly supported and advocated specific political candidates in sermons to members in early October in an event referred to as "Pulpit Freedom Sunday". According to Reuters, videos of these sermons are sent to the offices of the IRS.

According to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, the provision of the tax code from which these churches derive their tax-exempt status, a compliant organization must not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of … any candidate for public office."

The IRS has failed to remove the tax-exempt status of these churches despite their violations of tax code. This must change, and the law must be applied equally to everyone.

Don’t you suspect that many of the officers obligated to enforce the law are also members of these same kinds of churches, and are motivated to neglect their duties by a conflict of interest?

Maybe there should be a requirement that all IRS agents be atheists. That would certainly improve the popularity of atheism!

Comments

  1. Subtract Hominem says

    Signature #5,000 to keep the separation of church & state a two-way street.

  2. says

    I keep worrying that someone will fund a lawsuit to fight to overthrow the IRS rule, after all if corporations now have freedom of speech equal to individuals…

  3. jthompson says

    It’s not like the rules are even that hard to obey and still be way more political than should be allowed. They just know no one is going to do anything to them so they don’t even bother with it.

  4. leighshryock says

    @jthompson:

    It’s more than that, they are intentionally breaking the law and then sending the video evidence of it to the IRS.

  5. malachiconstant says

    Their signup system is awesome. After registering my email and password I get a page titled “404”, but it still sends me the confirmation email.

    When I click on the link in the email I get an error page, but when I go back to the petition I’m allowed to sign it.

    Great system, folks!

  6. McC2lhu iz not nu. says

    More damning evidence of the theocracy in action. As if the article last month about what the fucking churches actually spend on ‘charity’ wasn’t enough to wipe out their tax-exempt status.

  7. flex says

    @charlesknutson, comment #2,

    Churches are covered under the same section which grants other charities and non-profit organizations tax-exempt status, 501(c)3.

    Churches have a few unique advantages, however, in that there are so many of them that the IRS has decreed that they only need to file once rather than yearly and they can use an umbrella organizations already granted NPO status. There is no way that the IRS could review early the detailed documentation that other NPO’s are required to provide if they asked all churches to do the same. (Of course, my answer to that would be crowd-sourcing. I suspect the IRS would get thousands of volunteers to help review churches 501(c)3 tax-exempt paperwork.)

    More importantly, however, is that Congress has decreed that, “The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if a high-ranking IRS official, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity.” This is in section 7611 of the Internal Revenue Code.

    So the hands of the IRS are tied by Congress.

    For more information, see here:

    http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/index.html

  8. julietdefarge says

    I recommend reading IRS pup 557: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p557.pdf
    You may even wish to print it out and high-light the relevant sections.

    Law-breaker pastors are pretty safe from the IRS, however, because the GOP has been very effective in cutting funding for all sorts of government inspectors. Jobs, jobs, jobs!, except for inspectors who would fine businesses for locking their workers in fire-trap buildings or exposing them to deadly chemicals. Remember to wash your fruit and lettuce.

  9. christophburschka says

    Maybe there should be a requirement that all IRS agents be atheists. That would certainly improve the popularity of atheism!

    The sad part is that this is likely true.

  10. robro says

    I keep worrying that someone will fund a lawsuit to fight to overthrow the IRS rule

    Which may explain why they are sending video tapes of their violations to the IRS. They could be trying to force a prosecution so they can get a court to decide on the constitutionality of the restriction for NPOs.

  11. Sili (I have no penis and I must jizz) says

    Don’t you suspect that many of the officers obligated to enforce the law are also members of these same kinds of churches, and are motivated to neglect their duties by a conflict of interest?

    Easy!

    Let the Protestants go after the Catholics and vice versa. I can’t see what could possibly go wrong.

  12. Sili (I have no penis and I must jizz) says

    Their signup system is awesome. After registering my email and password I get a page titled “404″, but it still sends me the confirmation email.

    When I click on the link in the email I get an error page, but when I go back to the petition I’m allowed to sign it.

    Great system, folks!

    Much like the robocalls telling people the polling stations are closed for today/come back tomorrow. Or Obama’s already won, so no need to leave the comfort of your home.

    In short, discourage people from trying to make a difference. Nothing to see here, citizen, move along.

  13. Leo says

    I cannot remember where I read this (maybe Dispatches?), but I heard a law was passed under Reagan that high ranking officials in the IRS had to requests audits of churches.

    Looks like flex has already brought this up, though.

  14. says

    Let the Protestants go after the Catholics and vice versa. I can’t see what could possibly go wrong.

    How Northern Ireland went wrong is the best example of why not to do that. Maybe get Buddhists to do both sides? Ah well, I did my duty and added my signature to the petition.

  15. says

    Don’t you suspect that many of the officers obligated to enforce the law are also members of these same kinds of churches, and are motivated to neglect their duties by a conflict of interest?

    Plausible hypothesis. Does anybody know of any evidence to support it?

  16. says

    I am a supporter of granting tax exemptions to houses of worship. After all, we do have this thing called freedom of religion in this country, and the the quickest way to sneakily restrict something is to tax it out of existence.

    That said, tax exemptions should only be given to the specific places used or required for worship (churches, synagogues, etc, and headquarters for such activities). Once politics comes into play, though, all bets are off. Become a political machine, even with a cross or star or whatever on your building, and you are no longer a place of worship.

    Strip away the tax exemptions for places of worship that get political.

  17. says

    @#16
    We have freedom of press too, that doesn’t grant newspapers, radios and news channels tax exempt status.

    BTW, churches are already political, they just use code words to endorse candidates. Besides, the IRS is already hampered by a rule, introduced by Reagan, that requires a senior IRS official to sign off on church investigations. No other entity is granted that restriction before an audit. Just another way the religious are “persecuted” in this country.

  18. abb3w says

    While in the White House neighborhood, some of the tentacled horde might also be interested in stopping by this petition regarding sexual assault in the military.

  19. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Does anybody know of any evidence to support it?

    Simple, try here, here, and here, et al. Not a stretch of the imagination…if one can think, which you can’t.

  20. truthspeaker says

    malachiconstant
    11 July 2012 at 8:24 am

    Their signup system is awesome. After registering my email and password I get a page titled “404″, but it still sends me the confirmation email.

    When I click on the link in the email I get an error page, but when I go back to the petition I’m allowed to sign it.

    Great system, folks!

    I’ve never gotten that one, but sometimes when I’m on a petition page the “sign” button isn’t clickable, and it tells me to log in if I want to sign. So I go to log in (again) and it says I’m already logged in. So I go to a petition, and I can’t click the “sign” button because I’m not logged in.

    I thought about creating a petition to hire better web designers.

  21. carlie says

    and the the quickest way to sneakily restrict something is to tax it out of existence.

    Nothing sneaky about property tax and income tax.

  22. robro says

    noyourgod — The difficulty is that it’s equally possible to use tax law to unfairly favor these institutions. First, it’s easy to start a church as there are essentially no rules governing the process. What is a “church”? The Biblical definition is essentially two or three people who claim to get together regularly. Poof…I’m a church!

    As already noted, it’s relatively easy to get the tax exempt status for your church, and then due to restrictions placed on enforcement agencies, it’s practically impossible to investigate, much less prosecute, any violations of tax laws by your church.

    As one person put it, churches have tremendous potential for money laundering. A criminal organization could easily start a church, donate illegal money to it, and then the money just disappears and nobody is looking.

    Other non-profits are strictly regulated by the IRS and various state tax authorities on the sources of donations they receive and how the money is spent. However, because of the states and Federal government’s “hands off religions” attitude, churches just aren’t regulated in the same way. This is unlikely to change given the tremendous influence that religion, particularly various forms of the Christian cult, have on the government of this country.

  23. fastlane says

    Valiant effort, but even though this website is run by the whitehouse, the petitions are next to useless. They’ve come right out and said they aren’t going to change some things, even though those were the most popular petitions going at the time (federal de-criminalization of marijuana).

    So sign it all you want, it’s politically unpopular enough that naught will come of it. As a bonus, you’ll probably get a condescending pat on the head from the PTB that run the website, though. =P

  24. says

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls,

    Hey, thanks for the effort. Not sure why you disrespectfully allege I “can’t think,” since all I’m asking for is some evidence to think about. In my opinion, legitimate critical thinking prefers quality evidence. Neither a Wikipedia “List of Christian denominations” nor summaries of America’s religious distribution constitute quality evidence supporting PZ’s hypothesis that religious IRS officers neglect their duties due to conflict of interest. At best, you seem to imply that because America identifies as predominantly Christian, PZ’s hypothesis is correct. The problem with that is twofold: the evidence is not quality, and the conclusion doesn’t flow logically from the premises.

    I’m skeptical of this hypothesis because PZ is very outspoken against religion, which means there is a legitimate possibility that his hypothesis might be influenced by confirmation bias. I’m even more skeptical because he didn’t include the fruits of any research himself, and I’m especially skeptical because I have evidence that challenges PZ’s hypothesis.

    In 1984 the feds ruled that the IRS needs regional commissioners to approve church audits. However, when the IRS regrouped in 1996, the regional commissioner position was eliminated. A federal court upheld a Minnesota church who objected to its audit on the grounds that it wasn’t authorized by a regional commissioner. Consider the following quote from Americans United senior policy analyst Rob Boston (you’ll have to Google for the original, don’t want to link to my own blog lest I be accused of blog-whoring):

    Right now the situation is in a holding pattern because the IRS has found its internal policies under fire by federal court ruling…

    It seems to me this internal policy conundrum is at least as plausible as PZ’s hypothesis in explaining the data, but I could be wrong—which is why I’m asking for evidence to support PZ’s hypothesis.

    Do you have any?

  25. MetzO'Magic says

    Ing (#23):

    The tax exempt status, IMHO is unconstitutional for one simple reason. It puts the Government in the position of deciding what is and what is not a legitimate church.

    I’m still wondering how the ‘Church’ of $cientology got its tax-exempt status re-instated after it was revoked. They did have to fork over $12.5M to the IRS in penalties before they were re-instated. But still, there must have been some back-handers going on there…

  26. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    since all I’m asking for is some evidence to think about.

    No, you are being wilfully stupid. Anybody who doesn’t know religion is treated with kid gloves by the system is full of shit.

    At best, you seem to imply that because America identifies as predominantly Christian, PZ’s hypothesis is correct.

    It is the NULL HYPOTHESIS, due to historical facts. Just like the null hypotheis is non-existence for deities, bigfoot and nessie, and that scientific facts are good until shown otherwise with more science.

    I’m skeptical of this hypothesis because PZ is very outspoken against religion,

    And what is the factual basis for your skepticism? I see none available, as you haven’t cited a damn thing to support your fuckwittred hypothesis

    , but I could be wrong

    You wrong? Near certainty. The law is clear, no politicing by tax exempt organizations. Show otherwise with solid evidence, like citing the law showing otherwise.

  27. says

    Their signup system is awesome. After registering my email and password I get a page titled “404″, but it still sends me the confirmation email.

    When I click on the link in the email I get an error page, but when I go back to the petition I’m allowed to sign it.

    Great system, folks!

    Ok, my inner developer just screams when sites fail like this. Trust me–this kind of thing is not difficult to code. Not at all.

  28. rickschauer says

    I was thinking with tax-exempt status churches should receive no city, state or federal services either since they don’t pay for them.

    So if a church catches fire, the local fire department is under no obligation to put it out since god can douse the flames instead.

    Church theft? Let god find and punish the crook.

    Pedophile priest? Parental and victim free-fire zones ensue, etc.

  29. says

    I was thinking with tax-exempt status churches should receive no city, state or federal services either since they don’t pay for them.

    So if a church catches fire, the local fire department is under no obligation to put it out since god can douse the flames instead.

    Church theft? Let god find and punish the crook.

    Pedophile priest? Parental and victim free-fire zones ensue, etc.

    No. Not serving church’s public services is a net harm to society not a net good.

    especially fire as it has a tendency to spread if not taken care of.

  30. says

    Huh. We’ve got insults at #26, insults with an attempt at a sufficient response at #29, but still no evidence for the hypothesis in question. I suppose this will be my last response for today, as some people seem quite unnerved with a simple request for evidence.

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You seem really angry. Strong emotions are known to impede rational inquiry. I suggest stepping back and critically thinking about what I’m saying, but, the route you take is ultimately up to you. If you continue to lash out with frothing-at-the-mouth irrationally, I’m going to stop engaging you because I don’t want to clutter up the thread and there might be somebody here who just wants to have a simple discussion without a bunch of drama.

    Anybody who doesn’t know religion is treated with kid gloves by the system is full of shit.

    Why do you assume I don’t know religion often gets special privileges? Where did I say or imply otherwise? If you knew anything about me, you’d know that I’ve criticized this very issue at some length on my own blog. That’s why I’m granting that PZ’s hypothesis is plausible! Because I know religion sometimes gets a free ride when it shouldn’t! I’m simply asking for evidence that IRS officials are ignoring this issue because they are religious and have a conflict-of-interest.

    And what is the factual basis for your skepticism? I see none available, as you haven’t cited a damn thing to support your fuckwittred hypothesis

    That’s fuckwitted, and your claim is false. I supplied it at #25. Again: a senior policy analyst from Americans United said the situation is in a holding pattern because IRS internal policies came under fire by federal court ruling. I find that to be a better explanation than PZ’s hypothesis, and it has the added advantage of coming from a secular source—presumably decreasing the chance of pro-religious confirmation bias. Who should I believe? The professional who actually has a gig in the pertinent field? Or the guy who doesn’t work in the field and has a huge axe to grind against religion?

  31. madscientist says

    We can’t require FBI employees to be atheist (that’s unlawful), but we can set up a group to enforce 501c compliance. However, for me, compliance with the terms of the grant of Not for Profit status is small fry – how about the numerous exemptions other taxes that churches don’t have to pay like property tax?

  32. says

    The obvious solution (although it’s not going to happen anytime soon) is to remove churches per se from the listing of categories for non-profit status. If the church is engaging in charitable activities, they can do the same thing any other firm does and create a separate but affiliated nonprofit that exists only for the purposes of that charitable work, and is treated identically to any 501(c)3 (or other designation as appropriate) corporation.

  33. stevenbrown says

    I don’t understand the attacks on cl. I too would be interested in any evidence there is that the issues is caused by religious bias.
    I think it’s likely that bias of this sort accounts for some of the problem but, and this may be just me, I like to have references to back up what I’m saying if I get into a discussion with someone.

    I’ve actually been put off asking for links to studies disproving homoeopathy in these comment sections because it appears to me, a casual but regular read of this blog, that people who ask questions out of genuine ignorance or desire to learn get attacked as if they are being wilfully ignorant.

  34. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I’ve actually been put off asking for links to studies disproving homoeopathy in these comment sections because it appears to me, a casual but regular read of this blog, that people who ask questions out of genuine ignorance or desire to learn get attacked as if they are being wilfully ignorant.

    Why do you need to ask for links? There is this thing called google or google scholar, and you can type in search parameters and see what comes up. Like type in “homeopathy+skeptic” or “homeopathy+debunk” and see what comes up. Build up your own library. Gee, sounds what I do when I need to look up such information. All you have to do is to make sure the links are properly skeptical.

  35. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Strong emotions are known to impede rational inquiry.

    What inquiry? I’m not doing your inquiry for you. You should do your own research, and present the results here. You know, with declarative statements and links like “this is what I believe, and this is the evidence (links to evidence) to back up my assertion”. Like any real scientist like myself would do. You don’t do inquiry. You do obfuscation. As evidence by:

    I’m going to stop engaging you because I don’t want to clutter up the thread and there might be somebody here who just wants to have a simple discussion without a bunch of drama.

    Who gave you permission to dictate terms to other people to interact with you? Show me your name on the masthead, or lose that attitude. You talk to all of us when you post, period. We can all reply, and will. There are no private conversations per se. And if you think so, you prove to be as delusional as you appear to be.

  36. stevenbrown says

    Thanks for that Ign.

    Nerd of Redhead: I’ve tried to find good studies debunking homoeopathy and the overwhelming number of ‘studies’ I’ve found are ones run by organizations that range from obvious covers for pro alt med organizations to quite convincing woo artists who take the time to try and look legit.
    The only seemingly scientific paper I turned up in my search was a study done on a small enough sample group so as to be fairly irrelevant.
    Maybe my google-fu isn’t as good as yours which is why I would like to be able to ask for help without getting told I’m an idiot which is what certain people on this blog appear to do.

    Finally: If I put forward a position I consider the burden of proof to fall on me and if you, or PZ, or whoever puts forward a position then I expect the same from them. It’s not that I disagree with PZ’s position it’s that I try not to assume everything I hear from a source I generally agree with is true.

    Please also note that I’m not saying that everything that appears to me to be an over reaction IS. I’m sure there are times when a user asks the same dumb questions in other threads and ignores the answers they are given but I’m talking about what a casual reader or outsider might take away from some of the comments here.

  37. says

    Ing. It’s 3 letters. How did you possibly get it wrong?

    There’s no need to look at studies debunking homeopathy. It has no mechanism. It’s diluting the cause of a symptom down to the level where its most likely water and then claiming that it will heal.

  38. stevenbrown says

    Sorry about the name thing. I do proof read my posts several times before posting because I do suffer from rubbish spelling and mixing letters up. Guess I missed that one.

    Okay, if people have checked out his blog and found it wanting then I’ll accept that.
    I find this blog educational, thought provoking and fun but I’ve been put off joining the community because I’m afraid of being attacked because of my ignorance of many things. I’m the first to admit I’m not the quickest or sharpest of thinkers.

    As far as homoeopathy goes I know that the mechanism is pure woo but I have a few people who won’t accept that argument. Maybe that’s why I can’t find a decent sized study because the people who would be in a position to do one understand the physical impossibility of homoeopathy.

  39. stevenbrown says

    Cheers for that.
    In other news I went and read a bit of CL’s blog.
    My face met my palm. I apologize for opening my mouth without doing so first.

    Genuinely embarrassed.

  40. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I too would be interested in any evidence there is that the issues is caused by religious bias.

    Why must we do your research for you? Try google/google scholar for more information. Religious bias is mostly seen in the religious. Atheists laugh at all religion, and want to get religion where it belongs, in just the homes and churches, and out of the public sphere.

    Oh, and note CL did not show any evidence to the effect that churches can use non-taxable monies for political purposes. He avoided that, and talked about my tone. He also did not present any evidence PZ lied when describing religious privilege and abuse. Typical of such trolls, avoiding anything that might show their lack of truthfulness, hence showing they aren’t “authorities”. Inquiry isn’t trading OPINIONs, but finding real third party evidence to back up the claims. Like here for IRS requires for making churches/charities tax exempt. Found in one via google.

  41. says

    @Stevenbrown

    etiquette here is for a 3 post grace period. It’s been ignored lately since there actually have been semi-coordinated troll raids here. So patience is in short supply.

    Sorry I snapped, it is SOP for many to do what you did to troll

  42. stevenbrown says

    Sorry Nerd. As I say, I should have read his blog before opening my gob.
    Maybe I need to be a bit more cynical. When I read his first post:

    Plausible hypothesis. Does anybody know of any evidence to support it?

    I thought took it as genuine interest so your follow up seemed a bit harsh. If I’d gone and clicked through to his blog I would have seen the stupid and would your response would have made sense so I say again: My bad. Mea culpa etc.

    And as far as doing my research for me: I already said I have searched and failed to find what I was looking for. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places but whenever I search for stuff about altmed products I tend to get vast amounts of woo and very little science. It’s sad but it seems like the number of sites pushing altmed is considerably higher than the number of sites debunking it.

  43. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places but whenever I search for stuff about altmed products I tend to get vast amounts of woo and very little science. It’s sad but it seems like the number of sites pushing altmed is considerably higher than the number of sites debunking it.

    That is definitely the case. You might have to wade through a couple hundred hits to find one skeptical article. You can use Pub-Med to find NIH-CAM papers. Which is ironic as CAM was supposed to show alt-med works, and does the best job of debunking it. Orac deals more with alt-med than we do here. Also, if you find bloggers who deal with the subject keep an eye on them.

  44. Anri says

    Is cl still doing this dance?

    For someone claiming such desperation to be educated, they sure seem to have trouble learning things.

  45. fastlane says

    madscientist@34:

    However, for me, compliance with the terms of the grant of Not for Profit status is small fry – how about the numerous exemptions other taxes that churches don’t have to pay like property tax?

    Disclaimer: I’m not a tax lawyer, or anywhere near a tax expert, but I’ve done some digging on this in the past, and used to be on the board of directors for a small non-profit.

    The tax exemption currently is mostly at the federal level. Income of the church organization itself is treated as a non-profit. The real kicker comes in when you do a search for ‘ministerial’ exemptions’ and find all the things that religious (and only religious) leaders get tax exempt/deductions for.

    Many churches do pay local property tax (but probably not a majority). That is still up to the state/county/city in which the church is built. I think that they should be required to, at a minimum, pay property taxes, since by not doing so, everyone in the community is subsidizing the church through their taxes, which is more unconstitutional, IMO, than having the church pay its fair share. It’s more complicated than you make it out to be, but you make a good point.

  46. says

    Well. I gave it months, not weeks, but still, no intelligent responses. Just insults, rhetoric and the usual.

    stevenbrown,

    First off, I must clarify that my response was genuine as can be. We share the same concerns over getting our “facts” from people who tend to pre-agree with us and enforce our confirmation bias. Since you seem intelligent and cordial, I have no choice but to take your criticisms seriously. What, exactly, did you find so “stupid” on my blog? Granted, I post some polemical jabs at times, but I’m genuinely curious as to what might make someone like yourself “face-palm” (besides the fact that I’m a Christian).

    Cheers. Hope to hear from you, feel free to reply at my blog lest we be accused of derailing the thread. Or not. Your choice.