Why? Because that is the day of the Pulpit Initiative, when brave and idiotic right wing preachers will defy the IRS and lose their tax exemptions.
The Pulpit Initiative
Reclaiming pastors’ constitutional right to speak Truth from the pulpit
On Sunday, September 28, 2008, we are seeking pastors who will preach from the pulpit a sermon that addresses the candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture. The sermon is intended to challenge the Internal Revenue Code’s restrictions by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the Scriptural truth. By standing together and speaking with one voice, it is our hope to recapture the rightful place of pastors and churches in American life.
This really isn’t that hard to understand. If you are an organization that has a tax exemption, you pay for that privilege with some limitations: you don’t get to use your economic advantage to campaign for politicians. It’s not just churches, but also organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the NCSE — talk to them and you’ll discover that they are scrupulous about avoiding any entanglement with elections. Why, if Ken Ham were running for president against Ken Miller, the NCSE would not try to even hint at who you should vote for … to do otherwise would be to jeopardize their legal status.
I think it is fine that wingnut churches should be able to speak freely and endorse candidates, as long as they think it’s so important that it is worth setting aside their tax-free status. These kooks, though, want to be able to both act as power brokers in politics and not pay for it.
By the way, if anyone out there detests the political content on this blog, one solution would be to arrange a major tax exemption for me for shutting up. I’m paying tuition bills for two kids in college this week, so I’d take it readily.
The sermon is intended to challenge the Internal Revenue Code’s restrictions by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the Scriptural truth.
Sorry but that don’t make any sense. Can’t make not one bit of sense out of it. Need more coffee I guess…
How about a tax shelter for supporting cephalopod initiatives? No capital gains tax for pharyngulites who pursue teuthology.
I am so wise says
Churches get the kid glove treatment too. The non-profits I work for generally have to open up their records to anybody who happens to be curious. Now try again the Vatican to open up its records on say, the Second World War. It won’t happen.
September 21 might be a good day to visit your local right-wing church to see if your mp3 recorder does a good job of picking up the sermon. If so, your return visit on September 28 may produce an audio file of interest to the IRS.
I don’t understand why churches get tax breaks. Taxing them does not in any way affect how they spread their message, so I don’t see how it’s a free speech/separation issue.
On Sunday, September 28, 2008, we are seeking pastors who will preach from the pulpit a sermon that addresses the candidates for government office in light of the truth of Scripture.
Why is it that they don’t come right out and say it? What’s with all the BS obscurantism. Anyway, if they think that churches don’t already get involved with presidential elections they are sadly mistaken! Oh, now I understand what’s with the obscurantism. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh…
Matt Heath says
Is it only their tax breaks they are risking? Is excepting the exemption and not obeying the conditions not criminal fraud?
I’m quite willing to let all churches endorse whoever they want, and pay taxes like every other business.
They’re exempt from property taxes too, at least in my city. There are huge chunks of prime real estate from which no taxes are coming to pay for schools and other important community services. This has long been one of my major peeves. It’s just flat wrong.
You don’t think that this (churches endorsing candidates) is already happening? It has been taking place in thousands of churches since the 80s. They are however generally not this blatant about their objectives (its generally more or less obviously implied).
Zeno, since the Sept. 28th event is specifically designed to challenge the law, they will probably be inviting the IRS to come and listen. The point is exactly to get the IRS to yank their tax-exemption so they can get the issue into the courts, hoping to eventually getting it declared unconstitutional. No need to sneak any recordings to the IRS.
This oughta be good. It doesn’t matter which candidate these preachers endorse. Neither fits very well into their world view.
Tony Sidaway says
I hate to say this, but I think most of these people will get away with it. There’s safety in numbers, and the IRS really doesn’t want to be seen (1) descending on lots of ministers or (2) being seen to descend on some ministers and not others (think: establishment clause).
Mr P says
“Scriptural truth”… need I say more.
Ok, I will. Doesnt the bible say to pay your taxes (the whole give unto Ceasar thing) and if you are fined, pay not the amout owed but TWICE the amount? Why dont churches do this? Oh, right, an all powerful god has a need for our man made sinful money.
SteveM @ #11:
I realize that the Alliance Defense Fund is eager for a test case (or cases) that can be used to try to overturn the political activity restriction imposed on tax-exempt organizations. I am also certain that lots of pastors would rather it be someone else who takes the risk. That’s why I suggest “helping” the pastors who participate in the Pulpit Initiative but keep a lower profile by not actually getting in the face of the IRS. We can keep them from being overlooked when the tax exemptions get stripped from the high-profile cases.
Jason Dick says
Yeah, I have to agree with Tony Sidaway above, sadly. They’ll probably get away with it, especially with Bush as the leader of the executive branch. But there’s still reason to hope that they might be audited.
Bart Mitchell says
I came here originally looking for remedial education in biology. I keep commin’ back because of the politics. I appreciate you blogging on science. Don’t even tease us with threats of quitting the political screed.
Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT says
It works both ways. As soon as a church is being taxed they have a legitimate claim to the political process. Tax exemption not only benefits the churches but benefits the political process as well.
Unfortunately, many churches on both sides of the spectrum violate the terms frequently.
Mike Haubnrich, FCD says
The Windsor Hills Baptist megachurch is openly advocating political positions on their marquee, according to my brother who lives in Oklahoma City.
They are so going to get away with this unless people file official complaints. Take pictures. E-mail them to Americans United for Separation.
These Baptists have no sense of the history of this country. One of the strongest advocates for the establishment clause was John Leland, a Baptist minister.
I don´t understand why american secularists don´t submit lots and lots of applications for tax exemption status for all forms of bogus churches (since they are undistinguishable from “real” churches anyway, see FSM…)
Wouldn´t this be a good way to point out the utter ridiculousness of the tax exemption rules? I mean, how could the government discriminate between the “real” religions and the bogus ones? They´re all fake!
Andrés Diplotti says
“Help! They want to hold to the same standards and regulations as everybody else! THEY’RE OPPRESSING US!”
These blowhards just amaze me. It’s so painfully easy for them to advocate for a candidate without actually saying it in so many words and not run afoul the law it’s not even funny. And yet they STILL insist on foolishness like this? Almost unbelievable. And even if they do break the rules, the IRS is notoriously lax on churches as opposed to the non-profits like Americans United and the FFRF. It’s clear the goal here is actually to get caught and then be able to play martyr to the shepherded herd. They will then use every victim card in the book, trot out the First Amendment and get undeserved press coverage for their loony crusade.
I couldn’t agree more with activist preachers causing the loss of their church’s tax-exempt status.
That status is granted (AFAIK) in part because such people are perceived as providing a public service. When that “service” turns into partisan campaigning, it simply adds to the ubiquitous political din – aka: a nuisance.
On a related note, should this actually come to pass (ie. the loss of tax benefits), I can imagine seeing political campagins providing funds for such people. I’m not up on the legal ramifications, but it certainly seems plausible.
As soon as a church is being taxed they have a legitimate claim to the political process. Tax exemption not only benefits the churches but benefits the political process as well.
Not only that, but the government has a legitimate compelling interest to regulate taxpaying entities. Hypothetically speaking, how loudly do you think a congeries of fundies could whine with government regulators breathing down their necks? They really don’t know when they’ve got it good, do they?
Norman Doering says
That sounds like a good idea. I imagine people have tried but then found they didn’t have any means to generate income that they could shelter from taxes without risking jail for tax evasion.
Now we just have to work on getting rid of that tax exemption.
A 501(c)(3) organization must be organized as a corporation, trust, or unincorporated association.
Luke 16:13 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Lilly de Lure says
Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT said:
OK, so if I’ve got this straight they are given tax breaks by the government and in return they agree to keep their noses out of politics (as per the Establishment Clause) – is that right?
So, if they have the exemption what are they complaining about? Are they actually proclaiming that they want all of the perks (tax breaks) without abiding by any of the rules (Establishment Clause) and expecting people to sympathise with them?
Or are they just betting that the IRS will take one look at the scary religious people and fold like a cheap suit the way they did with the Scientologists?
The good reverend chimp explained part of the reason churches get tax exemptions, and I’ll take it a step further.
In countries with established churches, such as the UK, taxes historically were used against certain religious groups the government didn’t like.
In the US, because even in the Colonial period there were a number of different major denominations, none could claim explicit and exclusive support from the government — not without endangering the whole Constitutional Convention. It’s one reason we don’t have a religious test for office, though as a political reality there is one, to a point. (It depends heavily on the district you are in. In New York City being Jewish is no big deal, in Oklahoma it is). But you can’t be disqualified from any job — nor any office — in the government because of your religious belief or lack thereof.
Since nobody could agree on which religion (really which Christian sect) should get official recognition the decision was that the government would get no control over what people did in the churches. To that end, the government had no claim on any of their assets. That way, nobody could misuse their authority to tax. So, for example, if the majority of people in a town were Protestant and the Catholics build a church, they can’t use their power as the majority to go after them with some weird tax loophole/non-exemption.
Now, before anyone pipes up with the unconstitutionality of targeting specific religions, let’s remember that a law can be ‘neutral’ and still disproportionately affect a certain group. So, for instance, if I had a law saying that for safety reasons every house had to have yard lights turned on at sunset on weekends or you would get fined, that would actually disproportionately affect Orthodox Jews. Or if I only opened polling places on Saturday, the same thing would happen — Jews would be disenfranchised despite the ‘neutrality’ of the law.
Tax-exempting churches — and remember, other, non-Christian minorities– eliminates a lot of these kinds of problems.
Now the flip side is that Churches don’t get to campaign for certain candidates. Obviously though, you can’t stop people’s political opinions at the door. And while I think it’s important to maintain that separation, it’s also important that we think carefully about people’s speech rights. The Unitarians aren’t a bunch of Republicans, and I’ve heard a Unitarian minister speak Obama’s name occasionally. Is that ‘campaigning?’ It’s not as easy a question as it sounds at first and there will be a lot of billable hours for lawyers as they try to hash it out.
Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT says
The sermon is intended to challenge the Internal Revenue Code’s restrictions by specifically opposing candidates for office that do not align themselves and their positions with the Scriptural truth.
Oh, so there’ll be a nationwide sermon against McCain? Swell. :)
First you can verify their tax exempt status at this URL:
Then all it takes filling out a pdf and an email.
It’s torture, but I’m listening to this fundie from my area every week, http://www.ptsalt.com/. He and his guests have blatantly violated the IRS code in two recent broadcasts. They are counting on a few things, that few people can tolerate listening to them, that they will not take action and then that the IRS will be unwilling to do anything. I for one am going to keep listening and complaining. If nothing gets done by the IRS I plan on calling them. If that doesn’t work I’ll either try contacting a lawyer or the ACLU. I will never surrender! It’s wrong that these people have tax-exempt political talk shows to push their agendas on the gullible.
Posted by: Jesse | September 2, 2008 10:20 AM
In the US, because even in the Colonial period there were a number of different major denominations, none could claim explicit and exclusive support from the government — not without endangering the whole Constitutional Convention. It’s one reason we don’t have a religious test for office,
Not to strike any dialog, but just an FYI, I agree with Jesse on that being one overt view of why we don’t have a religious test.
But, and this may seem cryptic to many, I’d posit that there is a greater reason which was found within the distrust of the Roman Catholic Church (and by extension the Jesuits) by the colonists.
What was denied to the RCC was overcome by the adoption of no religious test.
Yes, but the Establishment Clause only applies to the government, not the people or the churches. That is, it is not the Establishment Clause that forbids churches from getting involved in politics, it is the tax law. The tax law does not violate the Establishment Clause by giving them tax-exempt status because it is not for churches per se but for non-profit organizations. Also, as I understand it, they are not forbidden from engaging in politics or expressing political opinions, they are only forbidden from endorsing specific candidates.
Here are some short excerpts of what these tax-exempt supposedly religious organizations are saying. Give a listen and make up your own mind.
Personally, I’m incensed.
Lilly de Lure says
Thanks for the clarification SteveM, apologies for the confusion!
BTW did anyone else think that they saved the best until the end of their little press release:
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the theocratic agenda of these folks laid out so baldly before. It’s not as if things worked out so well the last time pastors and churches had their “rightful place” in American life!
Does anyone know how often a conservative church looses its tax exempt status for violating the code? This stunt seems to be a “we’re proving the only exception is how we’re exempt from the law” type of thing. During the last prez election a local church passed out fliers at the nearby train station that, to me, was in clear violation of the law.
So much for rendering unto Caesar, eh? These people are obviously a bunch of theocratic nutters wanting to install a ‘christocracy’. It’s funny how the people who yell the loudest about how much they love their country are the ones who would overthrow the Constitution if they had a chance.
Alverant wrote, “Does anyone know how often a conservative church looses its tax exempt status for violating the code?”
I wouldn’t just confine the question to conservative churchs. It would be a lot easier to answer that way.
I haven’t been able to find the chart on the IRS site today, and I’m a bit rushed for time, but IIRC there were about 150 complaints filed nationwide in the 2004 election against churches violating their tax-exempt status and promoting a particular candidate. Of that 150, about 100 were investigated and (I believe) no penalties.
In the 2006 election there were about 200 complaints and again only about 100 investigations. But there may have been a couple of fines charged.
What this suggests to me is that:
1. Not many complaints are filed.
2. There are limited resources at the IRS for investigating the complaints.
3. Most complaints don’t provide compelling evidence of abuse.
and 4. Fines are usually assessed rather than pulling the tax-exempt status.
If someone has the time to find the actual charts on the IRS site, it would clarify this a bit.
Mr P says
For what its worth, im going to keep a lookout here in my little area of the bible belt.
Another thing that irks me, There are a few large churches here that use city police and county sherrifs to direct traffic when the services end. Its only a few of the very large churches, most of which are baptist (all are xtain). If the officers are on duty and tax payers are paying for this, is the government promoting one religion?
There is a simple answer to this, but not many wish to think about it. Simply make religions (tax free or not) illegal. They can then be as political as they wish, but dare not confess their beliefs. No more equal access rights to cable subscribers etc. Let them pay taxes and pay for the education of their theocratic children. Better yet, let them build their own schools? The point is that you cannot have a government within a government. State and church must peacefully co-exist. If they do not remain exclusive of one another, they become entangled. Whenever that has happened in history the results have been disastrous for mankind in general. Should they lose tax exempt status, they would become political action committees and active parts of the government, or sub-government.
Remember how many people are aghast that you don’t believe in a god? Watch what happens when you don’t support their candidate!! Religions should be illegal, but failing that my hope is that we can keep them in their own small corner of the looney bin. Already the public demands that candidates endorse one religion or another to prove their value in general. This minor business of proving spiritual values should be illegal in many senses. Religion should NOT be a requirement to hold office, yet it is. In most cases, religious faith should be a quality that disqualifies the candidate, as in the case of creationism and/or young earthers. These people have proven an inability to reason and accept scientific fact. Do you really want them putting their finger on the button?
I say yank their status, for ALL of them, not just those in defiance. Then start collecting back taxes for the duration of the time the current pastor has served that church. Auction the assets of any church unable or unwilling to pay the back taxes. If they want to call that persecution, let them. I like to think of the taxman as a persecutor!
Let’s organize some effort on the 28th to report all these people to the IRS.
Well, I’ve been saying “Tax the Churches!” for a while; and now the churches are going to tax themselves.
Tax those mongerers of religious nonsense; better yet, tax them double for disseminating nonsense without a rational license. And while we’re at the portentious trough, tax all churches and their tax-free property, and make it retroactive back to when citizens and businesses first started to pay taxes to support the parasitical morons of pie in the sky and dementia.
Longtime Lurker says
One of the most pernicious effects of churches’ tax-exempt status is the loss of tax revenue to disadvantaged areas. When businesses close in the downtowns of small municipalities or inner-city areas, storefront churches tend to spring up, like poisonous mushrooms on a cow turd.
If there were a god, the IRS would eliminate the “church” qualification for 501(c)3 tax exemptions.
As there isn’t, what will happen is not a damned thing. There will be a few token investigations and no punishment more than a slap on the wrist for every church that engages in the protest and the rest will be free to politicize as much as they want.
Other 501(c)3s will still have to abide by the law, however.
Marcus Ranum says
Does anyone really think the IRS is going to tangle with churches!?! Uh, please. Get real.
Yes, they should but, duh, the whole situation of churches being tax-exempt never should have happened in the first place.
Brian McEnnis says
I doubt that NCSE’s non-profit status would be jeopardized were they to point out that Australian-born Ken Ham is constitutionally barred from serving as president of the United States.
I would agree with this except for one thing…
Yeah, that would be it.
Getting rid of the tax exemption on churches would only give them as much claim to the political process as any other corporation currently has. If anything, it would make it more open.
wishing it to be true won’t make it true
Here in NH we have a recently vacated house built seemingly for the purpose of tax evasion, formerly the Browns’ residence (Ed & Elaine Brown). I can give you directions.
I agree. If it is so important that you speak about candidates, then it’s important enoughto pay taxes. These guys are all about making noble sacrifices, right? They’re not threatened with jail, fines, or any criminal charges. It’s simple. You applied for tax exemption. You agreed to these rules. Keep your word or negate that contract. What is so hard? Do pastors have a hard time keeping their word? Plus, they have every right to endorse a candidate as a person, but NOT as a pastor. So if they campaign anywhere but the pulpit, they’re good. They have nearly no restrictions on the right to campaign for a candidate and the only one they do have is the one they willingly agreed to! ARG! If you want full freedoms, then do what the rest of us have to do, PAY FOR THEM! Why do I have to pay taxes when you don’t?
And once again we come to the problem with any kind of “non-overlapping magisteria” solution (this time, the division between the secular world and religious organizations). Isn’t it funny how it always seems to be the religious organizations who cheat their way out of their end of the bargain? Give them an inch and they will take a mile.
They can get tutition fees in places like Scotland, so it’s 6 and half-a-dozen, really…
I’m with Zeno. We should start a campaign to get all the free-thinkers to gather evidence for the IRS. If they want to talk, let em talk. For once, the religious will have a captive audience of atheists. Unfortunately I’m afraid that without tax exemption, God’s gonna have to bump that 10% on up to 20%. Who says God’s not affected by economics. The sheeple will cover the bill.
Longtime Lurker #45
“to spring up, like poisonous mushrooms on a cow turd”
Hey, don’t knock those mushrooms until you have tried them. Just make sure they have the hallucinogenic slime on the caps as verification of type.
That said, I know of a fellow who, after a few too many caps, saw Satan. The silly bugger went religious after that.
Read the IRS rules, damn it! Some of you guys are going on about this on hearsay. The rules say wonderful things like, “significant” when qualifying the terms under which churches may not engage in political activity. I’d love to see somebody define that.
It’s not magic. You can’t step in, point a finger, and snap off a church’s political activity. As soon as they stop speaking, they can re-qualify for 503+ status again, too.
It’s your Congressman you have to talk to. Confronting the IRS or the church won’t cut it. I know you knew that.
J Dub says
Hey PZ, don’t you get some kind of tuition remission for your kids? That’s one of the few big perks that comes with being in academia. I know I couldn’t afford to send my kid otherwise.
From the ACLU website, on free speech, the First Amendment, and “campaign finance reform”:
The American Civil Liberties Union has been studying, litigating and lobbying on the constitutional and practical implications of campaign finance laws for more than a quarter century. For all of those years, while we prevailed repeatedly in the courts, we fought an uphill battle in the court of public opinion and ours was a lonely voice in the progressive community.
The ACLU is among those who believe that the system of electing candidates to federal office badly needs repair. And we will continue to advocate reform of the current system – such as our longstanding support for full public financing – but in doing so we will stress fidelity to the principles protected by the First Amendment with the goal of expanding, not limiting, political speech.
How depressing. But, why September 28?
just curious. . . I don’t know of any special significance to that particular day, do you ?
I agree that these organizations should not be tax-exempt.
If you’ve seen some of the things some of these people own, tax-free, you would agree with me. they don’t deserve this unearned income to begin with, and not paying taxes on it merely aggravates the offense.
What these churches are looking for is representation without taxation.
The point of the protest is to deliberately violate the IRS rules, however they are defined.
Perhaps you can tell me when it was that the IRS trumped the Constitution.
If you care to further enlighten yourself… but be warned, this may logically confuse your position.
Churches can certainly participate in elections and politics, they just have to give up their tax exempt status if they do.
Theists are the ones who are consistently confused.
Steve_C: There should be some litigation about this soon.
I hold fast to my (correct) opinion that the IRS (only since LBJ was a liberal Senator) does not have as much authority as it thinks it does.
Oh I’m pretty sure the IRS can’t act on its own. The justice department would have to get involved. But when the Churches plan to openly defy the law, the shouldn’t cry persecution if they ever do get their tax exempt status pulled.
Nerd of Redhead says
Mssc54, If the churches don’t want to be taxed, then they must play by the rules. And they essentially sign a contract when they file their returns. Suddenly, the churches break their oaths and expect nothing done in return? That isn’t a free speech issue. Because, if they want free speech, all they need to do is to pay taxes. Idiots like you miss this point.
'Tis Himself says
The IRS can act on its own. In fact, it does so frequently. It will make a determination and if the taxpayer doesn’t like the IRS’s decision, an appeal can be made to the Tax Court.
Nerd of Redhead: Hey, thanks for the name calling. Just curious… is that SOP when you science types feel a bit threatened? ;)
Threatened? hehe. My my you have a inflated opinion of yourself.