National Petition Drive Seeks To Strip Westboro Church Of Tax Exempt Status

180px-westboro_baptist_church_in_new_york_by_david_shankboneIt takes a lot to get most of us to give a Tinker’s damn for the homophobic extremists at the Westboro Baptist Church. However, the people may be close of doing just that. Citizens are passing around petitions to have the church declared a hate group and strip it of its tax exempt status. This type of political movement targeting an unpopular vote raises all types of alarms for civil libertarians. Declaring certain groups as “hate groups” by popular demand smacks of majoritarian dominance. It also reaffirms the concerns, which I have written about previously, that hate laws are increasingly being used to stifle free speech. It is equally troubling to find the petition on the White House website.


Almost twenty thousand people have signed the petitions demanding the designation of the Church. The church left a signature message on its machine: “We will not allow you to corrupt the minds of America with your seeks of hatred. We will not allow you to inspire aggression to the social faction which you deem inferior. We will render you obsolete. We will destroy you. We are coming.”

The petition on the White House site states:
“The members of this hate group make a practice of targeting funerals to make their case, routinely inflicting further pain and anguish onto the mourning families of deceased soldiers and, even worse, the victims of tragic crimes. They hold signs thanking God and celebrating the deaths of these people. They wave these signs in the faces of the families.”

Is that the standard for stripping away the status of unpopular groups? Holding up obnoxious signs and celebrating the death of people? There are an array of different groups who protest people who symbolize or represent an opposing view or lifestyle. Westboro is not accused of taking violent action and generally complies with local police instructions on where they can protest. The concern is that by defining an opposing view as “hateful” the majority can now punish unpopular views and individuals as part of a non-discrimination policy. Indeed, such actions in stifling speech are often defended as fostering speech — a free speech version of destroying a village to save it.

Anti-gay organizations have lost their 501(C)(3) status in the past but due to their failure to file correct forms as in the case of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH).

The stripping of Westboro of tax exempt status would in my view place us on a slippery slope of regulating speech. For that reason, I have previously objected (here and here) to IRS rules that allow the termination of tax exempt status based on discriminatory practices of religious organizations like the Bob Jones University case.

What do you think?

Source:  FOX4

53 thoughts on “National Petition Drive Seeks To Strip Westboro Church Of Tax Exempt Status”

  1. Lets count the number of so called religious organizations that could loose tax exempt status if this would happen….. Like Gene said….. It’s better to have your enemy in the open…… They make better targets…..

  2. Mike Spindell 1, December 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

    … singling out the WBC would seem to be egregious selective enforcement.
    =====================================
    That is what happens to an egregious unique thingy.

  3. “that exemption laws concerning partisan politics aren’t being enforced. That’s not a violation of free speech – which is what the petitioners essentially seek here by having the labelled a hate group – but rather a condition for the exemption that is required to keep be in line with the Establishment Clause. The IRS is engaging in selective enforcement in one area, why not another?”

    I think Gene gets to the heart of this above. In my opinion there are many religious organizations that are violating the tax laws by operating political operations. Given the nature of the WBC I think a good case could be made for that. However, this could be said of many religious institutions from Pat Robertson, the Billy Graham Ministry, to the Catholic Church. Yet there is no enforcement, so that singling out the WBC would seem to be egregious selective enforcement. The entire tax code with regard to on-profits ande religious institutions should be looked at with a jaundiced eye, and I worked for and with on-profits, so well understand the corrupt underbelly that exists in many. The simple truth is that the doesn’t exist the political will to have a public discussion on this issue of tax exemption and I doubt there ever will be such a discussion.

    As for the petition to label WBC as a hate group and thereby remove its tax exempt status, this is impermissible for First Amendment reasons and I certainly wouldn’t sign it, as much as I hate this group and wish them all the possible misery that could befall them.

  4. I don’t understand their purpose in protesting the funerals of children except for publicity.

  5. We are closely related to chimpanzees as a primate species. After seeing one of the WBC protests, chimpanzees are embarrassed.

  6. No church should be exempt from taxes. Period. Religion is evil in my book, and has inflicted more damage on humankind.

  7. I do not believe any organization or profession should be income tax exempt. If a charity or church wishes to avoid taxes, they should not have income. I wouldn’t mind a tax code that allowed for income averaging over time, so for example instead of defining income as revenue minus expenses over the course of one year, it was defined as revenue minus expenses over the previous three years, so churches and charities would have time to spend any excess revenue on their missions (whatever those may be).

    I think this should be a secular nation, and making one group (like the religious) preferred over another (like atheists) in the tax code is discriminatory. Whatever philosophy, religion, charity, or political stance one wishes to promote or declare is fine, but if it is earning somebody money those earnings should be taxed.

  8. I’m more inclined to sign a petition stripping the members of the WBC of their human status.

  9. I have no problem with the IRS investigating whether they merit tax exempt status — not least because this so-called “church” is solely the father, some of his kids, and a couple of extended family members. They aren’t a recognized Baptist church, either. (The press should point out how they are not properly a church every time it mentions them in a piece. If they are legitimately a church. I am declaring myself the Church of Me, tax-exempt — donations accepted.

  10. “The tax exemption laws can be violated without raising a free speech issue can they not?”

    Sure, Dredd. But the aside point is that exemption laws concerning partisan politics aren’t being enforced. That’s not a violation of free speech – which is what the petitioners essentially seek here by having the labelled a hate group – but rather a condition for the exemption that is required to keep be in line with the Establishment Clause. The IRS is engaging in selective enforcement in one area, why not another?

  11. Gene H. 1, December 18, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Darren/Dredd,

    …. that is ancillary to the free speech issue here and those seeking to strip their exemption based on the content of their speech. That’s effectively prior restraint.
    ====================================
    If they have not violated the tax exemption laws then there is no reason to sanction them according to the tax exemption laws.

    If those tax exemption laws violate free speech, then they should be struck down.

    That does not seem to be the case law, however.

    The tax exemption laws can be violated without raising a free speech issue can they not?

    The IRS has a page with links to particular issues here.

  12. Darren/Dredd,

    “The only way the WBC should be stripped of its tax exempt status must be if it violated the tax code in a manner that any other 501c3 would if it made similar violations.”

    You assume those laws are being enforced. The laws aren’t being enforced in disallowing partisan political activity by churches. It has to make one wonder what other tax laws the IRS is selectively enforcing.

    However, that is ancillary to the free speech issue here and those seeking to strip their exemption based on the content of their speech. That’s effectively prior restraint.

  13. Laughing at them may be a better remedy. Laughing at them without major press coverage, that is.

    But, as Darren Smith said, if they have violated the tax exemption laws then there is no reason not to sanction them according to the tax exemption laws.

  14. The only way the WBC should be stripped of its tax exempt status must be if it violated the tax code in a manner that any other 501c3 would if it made similar violations.

    I am very suspicious of politicians initiatating law enforcement actions against individuals. It is one thing for a law enforcement agency to receive a report of a crime and acting upon it, but it is quite another for a political official to goad a LE agency into doing this. When this happens it often harks of political agenda and political crime. I have maintained for years that while it is important to have oversight, law enforcement must be detached from political officials.

    The posting of the petition on the executive branch website has some rather unsettling implications. While I would agree that the appearance of one of these petitions does not mean it is necessarily endorsed by the whitehouse, (and consequently the executive branch) the expectation that some form of moderator decides what appears on the site. This can give the impression of a form of legitimacy of the petition as being one of even slight acceptance by the whitehouse since it appears of the website. It also brings in to question if political statements can be made by the executive branch by means of selectively endorsing what is posted and what is rejected.

    I disagree entirely with the concept of this site. First, the federal government has no formal petition process, as some states do with voter initiatives. It is not the job of the executive branch to facilitate and moderate public forums on topics of interest to the public. They have a certain duty to take and respond to individual requests sent in to the whitehouse but providing a moderated forum in which content is decided upon is inappropriate in my view.

    As for the WBC petition, the Terms of Service of the petition page indicate that petitions that are defamatory in nature are not accepted but in labeling this church as Hate Group that brings this into question.

    And by the way, I have zero sympathy or care for the WBC but it is important to remember that they are only one 501 c 3 organization. We shouldn’t overstep our gov’t’s reach to punish this church and erode the rights of other legitimate organizations in the process.

  15. They are free to say what they like and they are free to suffer the consequences. Like, say, having the hacker group Anonymous attack their website and reveal the personal data of church members after Westboro announced they were going to picket funerals of the Sandy Hook child victims. It’s not against the law to speak and illustrate what a hateful bunch of hypocritical jackass losers comprise your group. I like my Nazis out in the open where I can see ’em, just like the fictional Lt. Aldo. However, this is a prime example of the reason “hate crimes” are a bad idea.

  16. All church tax exemption should be take away regardless
    Of sect or creed. Churchesare money making operations that take large amounts of tax payer money to perform their good works. They spend millions on lobbying and political campaigns. The catholic Church has gone so far as to tell members that voting for Demkcrats is a sin. Take all the exemptions away.

  17. The White House petitions page has drawn some very curious initiatives, including one to impeach President Obama. Obviously, WH doesn’t endorse all that are created but some “prior restraint” may be a good idea in this case (smile).

    P.S. Given my nearly absolutist view of the First Amendment, I agree that the Westboro petition seeks unconstitutional action by the IRS.

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