Pulpit Freedom Sunday


Today is Pulpit Freedom Sunday, when about 1,4000 clergy around the country are going to tell people whom they should vote for in the coming election.

This is in direct contravention of IRS tax rules adopted in 1954 that says that tax-exempt organizations cannot indulge in partisan political campaigning for or against political candidates. The clergy are directly challenging this rule, essentially daring the IRS to take action against them, claiming that the separation of church and state prevents the government from having any say in what goes on inside a church.

Apparently they have been doing this since 2008 with the IRS not doing anything about it and they are raising the stakes. Some of them are recording their political endorsements and sending the recordings to the IRS. Clearly they want this to go to the courts and have the rule be declared unconstitutional.

Stephen Colbert had a segment discussing it..

He also spoke to one of the clergy leading the movement.

(These clips appeared on October 2, 2012. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)

Comments

  1. AsqJames says

    claiming that the separation of church and state prevents the government from having any say in what goes on inside a church.

    And yet it doesn’t prevent churches having a great deal to say about what goes on in (and who gets into) government?

    Not so much a “wall of separation” then. More a sort semi-permeable membrane.

  2. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Is the tax exemption for churches (considered to be) mandated by the separation of church and state, or is it revokable?

  3. Chiroptera says

    Those clergy might be in for a rude awakening.

    All non-profit and charitable and even advocacy groups are exempt from taxes as long as they don’t explicitly advocate for candidates in an election (I don’t know about ballot initiatives, though). Campaign for a candidate, and you lose your tax exemption.

    It would be interesting to see the look on those clergy faces when they find out that “separation of church and state” means that they don’t get to be treated any differently from any other group that claims to be a non-profit organization.

  4. raven says

    They should just tax all the churches.

    Or at least enforce the laws against endorsing candidates and keeping their IRS exemption.

    The fundie perversion of xianity is just a cover for right wing extremist politics anyway. Their god is a monster and their jesus is an idiot, created by them in their own image.

  5. Uri says

    the constitution doesn’t say churches can’t intervene politically. it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” this may well be construed as prohibiting the taxation of churches, or the conditioning of non-taxation on a church’s non-intervention in the political sphere. it is an accepted principle that the power to tax is the power to destroy. the courts could reason that the power to tax a church is the power to destroy it, and federal and state governments do not have the power to destroy a church, since that would abridge the free exercise of religion. it would follow that they do not have the power to tax churches. certainly governments cannot prevent church leaders from speaking about religion from the pulpit under the abridgment clause, nor from speaking their opinions under the free speech clause. since governments can neither tax churches nor prohibit their speech, they cannot condition their tax-exempt status on speech.

    at least, that’s how i would analyze it.

  6. Chiroptera says

    …this may well be construed as prohibiting the taxation of churches, or the conditioning of non-taxation on a church’s non-intervention in the political sphere.

    Me, I don’t think it could be reasonably construed that way at all. Since the first Amendment also guarantees freedom of the press, then your argument can be used to say that no business that disseminates the news can be taxed.

    …it is an accepted principle that the power to tax is the power to destroy….

    I don’t think that it’s accepted by very many.

    Under this argument, any of the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution can be put at risk by taxation, and so the government shouldn’t be allowed to tax at all.

  7. raven says

    it is an accepted principle that the power to tax is the power to destroy.

    Oh really?

    Accepted where? Tea Party central. Gibbertarianism. Randroids. Your head.

    I’ve never even heard of this. Sounds like something Ayn Rand or the weirdest of the christofascists would come up with.

    BTW, everyone is the USA pays taxes. It hasn’t killed anyone yet. I pay state, local, property, and federal taxes and have for decades. A few people like Kent Hovind are in jail but that is for not paying his taxes.

    Businesses pay taxes. Last I heard, there were still a few businesses and corporations left in the USA.

    FWIW, the bible itself has something to say about paying taxes. In at least two places it says…to pay your taxes, one of which is from the godman himself, jesus.

    Romans 13:6-7 NIV – This is also why you pay taxes, for the – Bible …
    ww.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13%3A6-7…

    This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them:

    Of course, all xians are cafeteria xians and the fundies are all hypocrites. I doubt this is a popular passage in their churches.

  8. Scott says

    I don’t think the nontaxation of churches is a separation issue, I think it’s more an issue of all non-profit organizations (i.e. 501c3) not getting taxed. Advocating a particular candidate violates the 501c3 status.

  9. Uri says

    “the power to tax is the power to destroy” is from the u.s. supreme court case of mcculloch v. maryland. on my analysis, it would indeed be unconstitutional to impose a tax on the press.

    as for “the government shouldn’t be allowed to tax at all,” i don’t think my analysis has that extreme conclusion. most individuals and corporations do not exist for the purpose of being a locus of religious practice, an instance of the press, or another institution that is expressly protected in the constitution.

    raven, the supreme court’s point is not that taxing something destroys it. it’s that if you have the right to tax it, you have the right to destroy it. if an institution has assets, you can always destroy it by taxing it at 100% of assets.

  10. Chiroptera says

    McCulloch v Maryland had several results.

    One was that the US did have the authority to establish the Bank of the United States, literalist readings of the “Necessary and Proper Clause” notwithstanding.

    Another result, and the reason this was studied in our high school civics class, is that states do not have the authority to tax agencies of the federal government.

    Unless I’m missing something, I don’t think you can read anything about church and state separation in this.

    Are you thinking of another case, perhaps, that cited this one as a precedent?

  11. raven says

    raven, the supreme court’s point is not that taxing something destroys it. it’s that if you have the right to tax it, you have the right to destroy it.

    It still doesn’t make any sense.

    Lots of things are taxed.

    Property including autos in some states.
    Income.
    Sales.
    Gasoline.
    Alcohol.
    Hotel rooms.
    Small businesses.
    Corporations.

    In none of those cases has the right of taxation included the right to destroy it. Operationally or otherwise.

    Even the churches pay taxes on their for profit business ventures. The Mormon church runs a lot of church owned corporations and is a huge landowner of farm and other real estate.

    I don’t see that making the churches who are really just right wing extremist groups with a cross stuck on there somewhere pay property taxes is going to destroy them. I pay property taxes and I’m still here. The corporations pay property taxes and they are still here.

    A church that pays property taxes and whatever federal taxes are due is just a church that pays property taxes and whatever federal taxes are due. It won’t destroy them any more than it destroyed me and General Electric.

  12. raven says

    wikipedia:

    McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819), was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States. The state of Maryland had attempted to impede operation of a branch of the Second Bank of the United States by imposing a tax on all notes of banks not chartered in Maryland.

    Never heard of this 1819 court case. I don’t see the relevance inasmuch as it was between the US government and a state and involved a federal bank.

    The IRS can grant tax exemptions to churches provided they don’t endorse candidates. This implies that they can take those exemptions away if the conditions aren’t met.

    In point of fact, they’ve done exactly this before.

  13. Uri says

    chiroptera, i think i stated it straightforwardly. the principle that religious practice cannot be abridged by congress is stated in the text of the first amendment. mcculloch stands for the principle that the power to tax is the power to destroy. therefore the power to tax a church is the power to destroy it. assuming that destruction of a church is abridgment of religious freedom, it follows that congress does not have the power to tax churches.

    (i do doubt that “the power to tax is the power to destroy” applies so broadly as to prohibit all taxation of entities that congress may not destroy.)

    this assumes, of course, that we are talking about a bona fide church, not a political organization with a cross attached.

  14. Uri says

    raven, whether “The IRS can grant tax exemptions to churches provided they don’t endorse candidates” is precisely what’s at issue. i know the IRS has done it; the question is whether this practice can survive constitutional scrutiny.

  15. raven says

    Disregarding the question of legality of a contingent tax exemption, most churches stay out of politics.

    The reason is real simple.

    Members that don’t share the ministers politics just leave. Churches are supposed to be for worshipping the gods and making sure you go to heaven instead of hell. Not to elect a nonxian like Romney.

    In the long run, it will probably accelerate the decline of US xianity. It’s already identified with extremist right wing politics quite often and correctly so.

    Right wing extremist politics are for rich, old, white males and whoever they can con into going along with them. This demographic is fading fast. The US is projected to go majority nonwhite somewhere around 2030.

    As an ex-xian, I wouldn’t rejoin the religion for a zillion reasons. A minor one is that I don’t want to believe in lies and have to hate the usual right wing extremist targets, women, gays, nonwhites, Democrats, scientists, college educated, etc.. In fact, I fall into several of those categories myself.

  16. Uri says

    well, i can relate to that. i stopped going to synagogue largely because of the extreme right-wing politics (this was an orthdox synagogue; other denominations tend to be more politically liberal, except as pertains to zionism and israel). it’s less about women, gays, science-minded people or immigrants (most orthodox jews in canada are or are descended from recent immigrants/refugees; and jews are traditionally less literal in their interpretation of the bible, so there’s less anti-science rigidity), and more about extreme anti-arab and anti-muslim and right-wing economic policies.

  17. Chiroptera says

    Uri: chiroptera, i think i stated it straightforwardly.

    Yes, you did. What you didn’t do is demonstrate that this is a principle in constitutional law as it is practiced in the United States.

    McCulloch is a specific case involving a specific situation. You cannot just read some broad general principles into it and try to apply them to a different situation altogether.

    What you need to do is cite a case where very specifically a US court has ruled that taxation of church was prohibited because of this so-called “power to destroy.” If you cannot do that, then you are drawing incorrect inferences from this particular court case.

    It could very well be that such a case was decided; I’m not aware of it, but it may exist. All you have to do is find it. I’m pretty sure, although I don’t know of any specific cases, where religious organizations have lost their tax exempt status for violating the laws granting such status.

    It may very well be that I am wrong here. It may be that such a case has never occurred, and so this would be a totally brand new precedent in law. I doubt that’s the case, though.

  18. Brad says

    Best possible result is that the churches that send in recordings retroactively lose their charity status, get audited, and are on the hook for four years of back taxes.

  19. Chiroptera says

    I don’t think that case is directly relevant to the issue we’re discussing here.

    If I am reading the decision properly, the decision simply affirms that granting a religious body tax exemption does not violate the Establishment Clause.

    It doesn’t appear to state that removing tax exempt status from a church is a violation of the Free Exercise clause. (But a reader might be able to make something of the phrase “…on the contrary, has helped to guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief.”)

    And I suspect that it has no direct relevance to the question whether the state may put reasonable limitations on the activities of a body in order to qualify as a religious organization.

    At least that is my non-expert reading of this.

  20. Jockaira says

    16th Amendment to the US Constitution:

    The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

    It can be seen from the above that Congress has an absolute authority to tax all incomes without exception. Because that authority is absolute, Congress also has the authority to grant exemption from income taxes deriving from that authority. Exemption from this taxation therefore derives from Congressional authority and thereby is a privilege, not a right.

    The IRS requirements (derived from Congressional authority) for 501c3 status specifically includes political lobbying as a reason for denial of that status and suspension or revocation of exemption from income taxes.

    In short: exemption for religions and churches from income taxes is a privilege based on continuing political non-involvement, and subject to review at any time.

    If you want exemption from income taxes, then play by the rules. Taxing authority comes from Congress, not God.

  21. raven says

    If you want exemption from income taxes, then play by the rules. Taxing authority comes from Congress, not God.

    Oddly enough, that isn’t what the NT bible says.

    I already quoted Romans on this thread. Jesus, the godman says the same thing, render unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s.

    I’m sure the christofascists can just ignore their magic book. They do it most of the time.

  22. Uncle Glenny says

    claiming that the separation of church and state prevents the government from having any say in what goes on inside a church.

    And yet it doesn’t prevent churches having a great deal to say about what goes on in (and who gets into) government?

    Not so much a “wall of separation” then. More a sort semi-permeable membrane.

    But asymmetrical: Maxwell’s Demon. An exorcism is in order.

  23. raven says

    The power to tax is the power to destroy, Source. (from Yahoo answers)

    That quotation is from McCulloch v Maryland, and is in reference to Maryland trying to tax a federal bank, which violated federal supremacy. It’s really not particularly relevant to the question. The first constitutional limit on the power of Congress to tax, was simply that the Constitution specifically forbid the Congress from levying any kind of tax whatsoever, aside from Tariffs, until that was changed by the 16th amendment. After the 16th amendment, there now really isn’t a limitation on the power of congress to levy tax.

    While it can be true, it isn’t usually true. We are all taxed and we are all still alive. The power of the state is also the power to destroy and yet we all live in nation states.

    It’s not relevant any more as a legal principle, having been superceded by the 16th amendment.

    There are other legal principles that counterweight the power of taxation to destroy. In a democracy, people vote for their leaders and vote on taxation issues quite often. And there are numerous consitutional limits on the power of the state to destroy. These days you can’t even keep slaves any more.

  24. smrnda says

    I’m no expert, but the constitutional right to practice a religion and to have no official state religion does not seem to imply anything about how taxes would apply to a religious institution. I’m sure there are other laws and precedents, but the basic bill of rights religious freedom does not seem to say anything about taxes, particularly nothing about any special exemption.

    I mean, if I run a movie studio and I have to pay taxes, this doesn’t mean I no longer have freedom of expression, just that the income I derive from my business is to be taxed the same as if I was selling lumber or hamburgers.

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