Tuesday, September 30, 2008

So why wait? Tax them.

I'm still waiting to hear of any potential fallout from the little stunt called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in which 33 Christian Right churches decided to send an unambiguous message to the government — to wit, "We're Christians! Rules don't apply to us!" — by openly politicking from the pulpit.

The whole charade was done in the hopes of igniting court cases. But I don't see why that should be necessary. All the IRS needs to do is send these churches letters informing them that, as they have chosen to violate the laws pertaining to tax-exempt organizations by making formal political endorsements, their tax exempt status has been revoked effective immediately. And if the churches were to respond to such a letter with lawsuits, the courts should simply say, "Well, the tax laws are pretty clear about this one point, and you flagrantly violated it. So your suits are dismissed. Have a nice day." See...no big deal.

You know, if every church in America were taxed — especially those absurd, stadium-sized megachurches that boast weekly attendance in the 10,000-and-over range — can you just imagine how that would help the country out of its financial slump?

Apropos of nothing: The post preceding this one was our 600th. Go us!


  1. You know, I recently got a piece of mail from some Christian law center or some such. They were encouraging me to write my Congressman to protest the "unconstitutional censorship of our priests and ministers."

    Looks like there's a meme going around the churchosphere.

  2. Yeah. I don't really see what the problem is. Nobody forces any church to file for tax exemption. Don't file for exemption, and say whatever you like. Or file for exemption and follow the regulations to maintain the exemption. But it's pretty sleazy to take the handout, refuse to follow the rules, and then call foul on the institution YOU went to--out of desire, not necessity--in order to make the deal in the first place.

    This makes no sense to me. ACA is a nonprofit and ACA also follows the rules. I used to work at an association management company. All our 501(c)(3) groups had to maintain a level of political neutrality to keep that status. This isn't something that is only applied to churches. If churches maintain the tax exempt status and do not have to follow the regulations on political support or endorsement to candidates--then they will have received a level of privilege no other such exempt organization currently enjoys.

    I don't see how that is fair. If I live in your house and accept your charity--you can apply stipulations for that. I have the choice to not take your charity and not accept your stipulations. Just because you offer me something with strings attached doesn't mean I have to take it. But if I take it--after you've explained the stipulations--that would be some real nerve on my part to then sit back and bitch about having to hold up my end of the deal--and call YOU unfair because I decide after I take your money that I don't want to hold up my end. Wow. Amazing how that works.

    It's really something how they can screw over someone, and then frame it to where they really seem to believe that they're the ones being persecuted.

  3. Nice comment Tracie.
    I really can't see a reason why churches aren't taxed now-a-days.
    The political influence of churches can be seen across the entire nation. The mormon church in particular is involved in altering the outcomes of elections in many states where they have very little representation. They use their tithes to sponsor their efforts, and I don't see any reason they should be receiving tax breaks at all. I don't want to help fund their political ideologies.
    Our democracy needs to rid itself from this shift toward of theocracy.

  4. I think many are missing the actual point of this. Sure it is dressed up in a legal challenge that they would like to win, but that is not what this is about. Its about getting the endorsement out to their flocks this year. Nothing more.

    Lets look at what can happen:

    They actually get case up to the supreme court and they win. Yay for them!

    They actually get a case up to the Supreme Court and they lose. Do you really think that they will actually be stripped of their tax free status immediately? No. They will be given a bye and told not to do it again or else. But they still got to tell their sheep who god says they should vote for. Yay for them!

    They actually get a case up to the Supreme Court and they lose. The government strips them all of their tax-free status. Sad for them. Until they just set up another church and sidestep the problem. Yay for them!

    I really don't see an actual lose situation for them on this.

    Hell, some of the wackier ones probably think they are going to be raptured before anything can happen anyway.

    If it was a legitimate legal challenge, wouldn't it make sense for them to hunt down some churches that would endorse Obama (I am assuming they all went McCain, please correct me if I am wrong) so as to remove the partisan element from the issue? But they didn't because it is not actually about the legal issue.

  5. Those are some good points, Vagrant. I'd also add that if they lose a court case, they get to raise the credit limit on their Christian Persecution Cards to undreamt of levels. And they'll spend freely.

  6. It will be really interesting to see what comes of this. I heard someone suggest that what will most likely come out is that the group organizing Pulpit Freedom Sunday will be punished, but that the churches that participated would just receive a slap on the wrist. This seemed like good foresight, since I can't see a mass removal of tax exemption from churches when they hold the majority in population. Can you imagine how the apologists would cry over this, and spin it as some sort of persecution.

    That said, they already have the ability to support specific candidates/parties without necessarily doing so directly. It all about what you focus on, and what you continue to focus on. A non-profit can drill on all day about the immorality of abortion, and insist that supporting it will afford you a direct ticket to hell. They can drill on the importance of the issue, without directly supporting the candidate, and thereby indirectly support the candidate. The same holds true with the media, it all about focus.

    Vagrant: I completely hear what you are saying, but I do think they have something to lose here, and that is the more they push the boundaries, the more they get the otherwise neutral and sympathetic individuals to side against them. And really, I guess in all honestly, who knows what could happen to their status. I suspect if they tried to start another church, and reestablish their tax exemption, it would be recognized and they would not be allowed.

  7. ai deng: That is a very good point. Considering most surveys on the subject place of 70% of the population agreeing that the law limiting partisan behavior is a good thing. (Which was added in the 50s, I just learned). So the possibility that it will serve as a further wedge is a real possibility. There are reports that the PFS has already created schisms in some fo the churches.

    Rev. Barry Lynn of AU.org has already filed at least 6 complaints already so the IRS will at least have to respond.

    As for them being able to dissolve and reform to sidestep penalties, I am not sure anybody would be looking close enough to catch it.


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