Pastors Take on the IRS

Respectfully Submitted by Lawrence Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

In light of the ever-increasing influence on National and local politics by churches and clergy, I was interested in the recent news that over 1,000 churches will be challenging the IRS by telling their parishioners who they want them to vote for in the upcoming national elections.  The event is dubbed “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” by its organizers and it is designed to challenge the IRS on its prohibition of churches from intertwining politics and religion, as a requirement of maintaining their tax-free status.

‘ “It is a head-on constitutional challenge.”  The Johnson amendment in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. The IRS has been reluctant to revoke churches’ tax-exempt status for violating the more than 50-year-old IRS rule, but the agency has issued written warnings to dozens of churches.” Raw Story

The event is slated for October 7th and the organizers claim that they are trying to force the IRS to pull the tax-free status from churches to test the constitutionality of the IRS on what the churches claim is a restriction on the pastors and churches right of free speech.  Of course, not all churches back this challenge of the tax-free laws.  “Americans United for Church and State has pushed back against the event, sending letters to 60,000 houses of worship that urge them to obey federal tax law.  “People don’t join churches because they want to be told how to vote,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Our letter reminds religious leaders about what the law requires, why it makes sense and how it could affect them.”  Raw Story

While I back the pastors rights of free speech, I do not agree that churches and religious clergy have the right to free speech from the pulpit and the right to a tax-free status.  If any church wants to tell its followers to back or vote a specific political party, they have the absolute right to do that under the Freedom of Speech.  The real question is can these same churches still claim their tax-free status?

Do Churches and clergy violate the Separation of Church and State when they take advantage of the tax laws as a religious entity, but yet preach for specific God or church friendly candidates from the pulpit?  I know this issue not only brings politicians into conflict, but as we have seen above, it even brings churches into conflict with one another.  Is the solution just banning all political speech from the pulpit, or should the IRS drop all churches tax free status?

Does this discussion put Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state in jeopardy?  Was Justice Black in error when he backed the Jeffersonian concept in the 1947 Supreme Court decision in Everson V. United States, that also discussed the Reynolds v. United states decision?  “Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between church and State.” Reynolds v. United States, supra, at 164.”

I realize that many pastors and members of the clergy for a variety of faiths, routinely “violate” this IRS rule now.  I have actually been in church and heard priests preach for specific candidates or political parties, as well as preach for or against certain government issues.  It personally makes me feel uncomfortable to hear the church being used for such political and partisan purposes.  How does it make you feel?  Is the Separation of Church and State worth protecting?

I also disagreed when priest or nuns run for political office because of the religious vows of obedience to the Bishops and the Pope that they are required to take.  Should any citizen be concerned when any member of the clergy runs for political office?  Without a strong wall separating the Church from the State, can anyone’s religion be safe?  What do you think?

78 thoughts on “Pastors Take on the IRS”

  1. bettykath1, September 23, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    “I prefer the churches preach God stuff and leave politics alone. If they insist on doing politics, they need to be taxed b/c they are no longer “just” churches.”

    Churches getting a 501 only allow the gov’t to meddle in the church’s buesiness. I say they shouldn’t get a 501, and they are fully allowed to talk about the candidates running for office. What happened to separation of church and state anyway? Its original intention was to keep the gov’t from running the church.

  2. Ralph Cooper 1, September 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    Re Thurlow:

    Then they should contact the IRS and give up their status as a 501(c)(3) and the tax deductions for their donors. They need to get real and honest. If they want to speak about politics, given up the deductions, up front.
    Tell that to the politicians. Why do you think the tax code is mostly a pile of useless nonsense? Would you like some free stamps?

  3. R. Thurlow 1, September 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Whatever the govt. and IRS response……that’s the govt.’s business……….but pastors should do what God has called them to do regardless.
    Who is God? That is a figment of your imagination. God is what you think God is.

  4. Qudos to these pastors!!!!!

    There should be thousands (no, hundreds of thousands) more like them!

    Genuine Christian Bible believing pastors should preach what God tells them to preach.

    (And if you are assuming God is not interested in politics, then sorry, you’ve got the wrong god.)

    That’s what genuine prophets and apostles did in the bible, and the consequences were often not nice for them (murder, imprisonment, etc.etc.) – but they said what had to be said anyway!!!!

    Whatever the govt. and IRS response……that’s the govt.’s business……….but pastors should do what God has called them to do regardless.

    1. Re Thurlow:

      Then they should contact the IRS and give up their status as a 501(c)(3) and the tax deductions for their donors. They need to get real and honest. If they want to speak about politics, given up the deductions, up front.

  5. Frankly 1, September 24, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Bron – were you born this stupid or did you suffer severe head trauma? Reading your posts on this thread I can’t decide if you really are completely from another planet or are hoping to convince really stupid people you are right. Those arguments are so silly I am stunned that people would bother to respond.

  6. Malisha 1, September 23, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    It’s not that deep. An organization that gets together for the purpose of worshipping god, who is not an elected deity, can be tax exempt. An organization that gets together for some political purpose or that, once it has already gotten together, turns its attention from god to some elected official instead, is doing political, not religious, work. Must pay tax.
    Got that right.

  7. Ralph Cooper 1, September 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    The issue is not whether the church has to pay taxes. The issue with the IRS is whether contributions to the church are tax deductible to the donors. If the IRS rules against the church, the donors lose the ability to deduct their donations on Sched A of the form 1040. For those in the 35% tax bracket, that means that the previous $1,000 donation that only cost $650 now will cost $1,000!!! And certain other trust and post-death contribution schemes will no longer be tax advantaged either.

  8. lottakatz 1, September 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    There ya’ go Matt, keep’n it classy.
    It’s a statement. The IRS really doesn’t amount to anything. It’s all on auto pilot.

  9. Hubert,

    “They shouldn’t be allowed to interfere anyway because of separation of church and state. But if the church gets a 501(c)3 then that ties them in with the gov’t and they have to obey. That’s why they shouldn’t get one.”

    Right. Then they can taxes and their donors don’t get to deduct contributions.

  10. If the church does not have the 501(c)3 they can and have every right to tell them who to vote for. It’s free speech, as well as separation of church and state.

    They shouldn’t be allowed to interfere anyway because of separation of church and state. But if the church gets a 501(c)3 then that ties them in with the gov’t and they have to obey. That’s why they shouldn’t get one.

    1. The provision that allows a church to provide a deduction for donations is in 501(c)(3). Religious congregations are defaulted under that provision and must comply with the rules or their donors will not be allow to deduct their donations when figuring their income tax. Religious congregations do not have to apply to be 501(c)(3). If they do not want to be governed by 501(c)(3), they can notify the IRS and then notify donors that their donations are no longer tax deductible.

  11. bettykath:

    when unions have the welfare of the rank and file as their main concern, please be sure to let me know.

  12. As I read the comments it seems that there are multiple categories of taxes and the comments don’t differentiate. There are income taxes and property taxes for the churches, and tax exemptions for donations of members. Right now the churches have a pass on ALL of these categories. I’m not sure that it should stay that way.

  13. rafflaw 1, September 24, 2012 at 12:16 am

    churches don’t usually pay real estate taxes on the local level so that also may be painful for the churches to absorb.
    Right. And it’s painful for the localities. Add in the universities and municipal buildings, and the corporations that get PILOT agreements and a significant amount of property is exempt from taxes. So the taxpayers pick up the bill for the streets, sidewalks, street lights, police, fire, schools, etc.

    Bron 1, September 24, 2012 at 9:29 am


    show me I am wrong, I will admit to it if I am. On the whole unions are all about lobbying and donating to one party, the democratic party. They lobby for progressive/left programs almost exclusively.
    Apples and oranges.

    The primary purpose of churches is about worshiping God. I have no problem with churches talking about issues of the day, but in a non-partisan way and certainly not to endorse one candidate or another.

    The primary purpose of unions is to lobby for the good of working people, whether it is in collective bargaining for their work place or any legislation for work related issues. Progressive programs tend to treat workers more fairly and the Democratic Party currently voices them more clearly. If the Republican Party wants union support is just has to have a platform, and an occasional action, that is more worker friendly.

  14. Bron,
    The liberal churches as you put it are probably members of the group opposing the Pulpit Freedom Sunday mentioned above. As I understand it, and I am sure there is some CPA here that can verify, but contributions to labor unions are not deductible as donations like they are for churches. Big difference there, don’t you think?

  15. I’m delighted at this news! Strip them of their tax free status and start taxing those charlatans immediately! Force them to pay their property taxes and declare themselves as the businesses they are. Only fundamentalist and right wing churches pull this crap because they aren’t churches at all. Particularly in the fundamentalist category it’s just a way for fast talking salesmen to get tax exempt status for their family operations. Tax em till they need to pray for relief I say!

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