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As I type this, churches all over the country are participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday. The participating churches will make explicit political endorsements from the pulpits and wait for the IRS to challenge the churches Tax Exempt status. These churches will have full support of the Alliance Defense Fund in mounting their courtroom defense.  Their goal is to have the courts rule that the prohibition of political campaign activity by tax exempt religious organizations is an unfair muzzling of the organizations' and their members' First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech.

So who is the ADF?  The ADF was founded by Bill Bright (of Campus Crusade for Christ), Larry Burkett (of Crown Financial, a Christian Financial Wellness ministry), James Dobson (of the innocuosly named hate group Focus on the Family), Donald Wildmon (of the almost-Westboro Baptist-level-of-crazy American Family Association) and other ministers and minstry organization.  Their mission:

to aggressively defend religious liberty by empowering our allies...through strategy, training, funding, and, where necessary, direct litigation through our own ADF legal team.

Or to remove the window dressing: Christian Dominionism, or the movement to set up Christian Theocracy wherever they can.

The IRS Tax Guide for Churches states that to protect their tax exempt status churches:

are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.

So standing up in the pulpit and saying "God wants you to vote McCain" means your tax exempt status is gone. There is an obvious reason for this.  Tax Exempt status is a very valuable assett, especially if you would be liable for the tax of offerings to a megachurch or national religious organization.  Scientology, one of the ugliest pseudoreligious and pseudoscientific pyramid schemes ever, worked long and hard to become tax exempt.

Ironically, one of the only churches to have its tax exempt status challenged was the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.  This very liberal church home for many Hollywood movers and shakers had an antiwar sermon delivered immediately before the 2004 election that was viewed as too Pro-Kerry.  All the anecdotes of anti-Kerry rhetoric swimming around during the 2004 election, yet the IRS targets a Pro-Kerry speech.

I think there is but one solution to all of this that would be fair across the board.  End Tax Exemption for all churches.  If they do charitable work, they can write that off of their taxes like everyone else.  But churches need to "Render unto Caesar" and pay their coin.  All of them, across the board.  Millions of dollars of improvements, many on prime real estate.  Tithes and donations.  All should be taable income, then any charity work could be written off.  Also, saving souls is not charity work.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, drug and alcohol treatment, and other traditional charity work can be written off the tax bill.  But leading souls to eternal salvation should be its own reward to the church, not an exemption.

The ADF hopes to spark a confrontation.  Challenge the IRS and start a legal war over free speech in the pulpit. But wars have a tendency to develop in unforetold ways. Just ask Donald Rumsfeld.

Mirrored from Fatigue Journal.

Originally posted to Spartacus Roosevelt on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 04:52 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Article in Christian Science Monitor. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kyril, Simplyhere

    "Go well through life"-Me (As far as I know)

    by MTmofo on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 04:57:56 PM PDT

  •  When Pastor Mac Hammond broke the law (5+ / 0-)

    by endorsing Michele Bachmann from the pulpit, complaints were filed. The result was that he received a letter, and the case was closed.

    In 2006, Pastor Mac Hammond stood up before his Living Word Christian Center audience in Brooklyn Park and said, "I can tell you personally that I’m going to vote for Michele Bachmann, because I’ve come to know her, what she stands for." That speech prompted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service for violation of the church’s tax exempt status. The IRS sent the church a letter telling the church it cannot endorse politicians from the pulpit. Despite ample evidence that suggested Hammond knew that what he was doing was illegal, the case was closed.

    The preachers’ revolt: Dobson-affiliated group encourages breaking the law, endorsing candidates from the pulpit

    The fact that the IRS did not enforce the law in the case, has given Dobson and his ilk the idea that they can challenge the law.

    It will be interesting to see them attempt this while people around the country gather the evidence and post You Tube videos, have a Democratic Administration installed, and a new effort to actually enforce the law. Wouldn't it be heavenly ... they'd lose their 501(c) status and have to start paying taxes?

    The Economy: The Republicans have privatized the profits, but socialized the losses.

    by hungrycoyote on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 04:58:24 PM PDT

  •  Here in the south (3+ / 0-)

    these "Men of Faith" have been doing this shit for years...Gore One - Ronnie Flyod (aka Armani Ronnie) had on his 50 foot wide screen t and v a montage of Junior - preaching for all self serving ego driven heart could muster - that his country needed to be lead by men of faith. He never mentioned Jr's was sleezy and he got away with it.

    I suggest if you hear that this happened, that you document it - and then wait for the Obama administration - and demand that we set up a task force - and deny these constitutional criminal their tax breaks...just deny it, let them hire attornies and make their case. The IRS is the only agency that can do this...and start tagging on the interest.

    Time to declare war on religiousism - not faith, just using faith to amass power and access...sorry for the rant.

    In this election, the economy has no color

    by Arkydem on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:03:25 PM PDT

    •  Obama is too smart to step into that pit (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      --they are pulling this off because they know that anyone that challenges them, brings votes their way.

      Wouldn't it be great if another group that cannot speak up did so in response--for example public university professors could speak out one day this week in response to the pulpit endorsements.
      That is what it will take to shut them up

      •  Not now ... but after the election. (0+ / 0-)

        Of course, Obama isn't going to do anything about it in the middle of the election. But, there is nothing stopping his Administration from addressing this problem once he is elected.

        The Economy: The Republicans have privatized the profits, but socialized the losses.

        by hungrycoyote on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 06:37:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Free speech doesn't mean free tax money (7+ / 0-)

    If they want to be lobbying organizations, they can pay taxes like every other lobbying organization.

    Otherwise we'll just have every candidate (and Dems will get in on it too) partner up with one or more churches, and direct their donors to send donations there.  Churches/synagogues/temples will be making campaign commercials, hiring campaign staff, etc, all without paying a dime in taxes.  To top it off, their donors will get a tax writeoff for donating to "charity"!

    You want to help elect Caesar, you can render unto Caesar.

    You can't unring my wedding bells - NO ON 8!

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:03:34 PM PDT

    •  The counterargument: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      FWIW, I think this is a weak counterargument, but it's reasonable.  First Amendment jurisprudence tells us that the receipt of a government benefit can't be predicated on not exercising a constitutional right.  So, for example, we can't make the receipt of welfare benefits conditional on, say, not having more children.  The argument, then, is that exemption is a benefit that the organizations can't be deprived of merely because they've exercised their free speech rights.

      Weak argument, IMHO: the state has a compelling interest in preventing tax deductions for political donations, and, since it's easy enough for churches to set up 501(c)(4)s and PACs, they can act in accordance with the law easily enough.

      You should be ashamed! Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now! - Ivy Frye, assistant to Gov. Palin

      by burrow owl on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:09:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But organizations (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chocolate cliffs

        (it can be argued) aren't constitutionally entitled to free speech. Individuals are. And the government may regulate the time, place, and manner of individuals' free speech - for instance, there's the Hatch Act for government employees - so it's not unreasonable that individuals should not be able to engage in certain types of political speech in their official capacity as representatives of a nonprofit religious organization.

        During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell

        by kyril on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:28:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  They can speak freely, but just NOT on the job (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        for an organization that is tax exempt.
        Right?  No one is asking them to hold their opinions when not on the job.  Unfortunately, their job is 24/7.  So they would need to clarify when they are and are not performing duties.  Speaking from the pulpit is clearly a role of their duty as an employee of a tax exempt organization.

      •  Which part of the constitution (0+ / 0-)

        protects your right to have children?  Surely not the 'pursuit of happiness' ;)

        Got a problem with my posts? Quit reading them. They're usually opinions, and I don't come here to get in arguments.

        by drbloodaxe on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:40:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  End tax exemptions for churches! and specify (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drbloodaxe, kyril, Simplyhere

    that the tax revenues collected from churches must go to a special fund that can only be used to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the afflicted. (We'd need a federal definition of 'affliction' though: one that excludes investment bankers)

    •  I had my preacher (5+ / 0-)

      ask me why I didn't tithe - to the 10% (knew I was a successful businessman). Told him that when Jesus ask for a tithe to the Church, that the Church took care of the children, feed the needy, helped the widows and were the place were those that needed extra help...

      Today, many of Churches are caught up in the mines bigger than your's - they spend millions of dollars building orfaces to themselves - and ignore their directive.

      Said I'd rather sit on a metal chair in a pole barn than see one family go without because of a 30 million dollar building.

      I give, but not 10% and the rest goes to pantries and the children's center in the area - after I said my pastor didn't have much to say.

      Added that all the Republican's screaming about all them there people asking for a hand out from the government - wouldn't have do that if the church kept it's eye one the ball.

      disclaimer - if your Church does community service - and lends a hand...I apologize for the generalization.

      In this election, the economy has no color

      by Arkydem on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:11:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I remember the issue of Pastor Mac Hammond (0+ / 0-)

        that I posted above, because I actually saw him in his mega church in wearing expensive suit and sporting an expensive watch.

        I live in Florida, but several years ago I went to visit a friend in Minnesota who is a member of the church. I purposely scheduled my visit so that I would leave on Sunday, hoping to avoid a visit to the church.

        Turns out, they had a service on Saturday. Pastor Hammond's sermon that evening was all about the importance of tithing. I looked around at where I was, and thought, "Yeah, right."

        The Economy: The Republicans have privatized the profits, but socialized the losses.

        by hungrycoyote on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 06:43:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  They most certainly do have a First (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    triv33, drbloodaxe, Simplyhere

    Amendment right to free speech.  That is indeed absolute.  However, unfortunately for them, there is no mention in the Constitution of their tax exempt status.  That can be changed at the whim of the IRS.  Historically very few court cases against the IRS have resulted in victories.  This may end up going very bad for all churches, and these 30 ministers will only have themselves to blame.

  •  I have commented multiple times about this topic. (4+ / 0-)

    I am a Christian who grinds my teeth at those who call themnselves Christians and do everything but live their faith.  From Dobson's Focus on the Family that rented the booth that sold the Obama Waffles at the the RNC, to absolutely insisting on inserting Church into State.  I am adamant that the Church and State should be seperate!

    My faith is my own and I don't want anyone cramming their's down my throat or mine down theirs.  Religious extremist whether they be jihadists, or the religious right are mean spirited haters and have no place in the main stream world culture.

    It's tiome for real Christians to start calling these people out!  Their brand of evil and hate, adn the ends justifies the means mentality is no different than the haters in the middle east--period.

    "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." -Plutarch

    by DEQ54 on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:08:21 PM PDT

  •  Freedom From Religion Foundation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drbloodaxe, kyril

    is a wonderful organization. To quote from their website:

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an educational, watchdog organization working to keep church and state separate, has had many significant legal accomplishments nationwide.

    The Foundation has taken and won more challenges of the "faith-based initiative" than any other national group to date.

    I highly recommend that any one here who is not interested in living in a theocracy consider a tithing here.

  •  Then extend it to ALL 501(c)3s... (6+ / 0-)

    ...not just churches. I work for a non-religious 501(c)3 organization and constantly have conflicts because some of our issues overlap with political issues. So, if they want to allow religious 501(c)3s to get political, then non-religious 501(c)3s have to be granted the same rights. Non-profit scientific organizations will be able to publicly endorse pro-stem cell research candidates and lobby for stem cell research funding; non-profit gay rights organizations will be able to campaign for pro-gay marriage candidates; non-profit pro-choice organizations will be able to campaign for pro-choice candidates, etc. How would the ADF like that?

    •  Agree Completely, Chris Rodda (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      drbloodaxe, kyril

      I volunteer for a small non-profit humane society and there is always a fine line about advocacy.  That is why private organizations can and do lobby at state and federal levels for animal protection bills but do not fund raise.  These people could be considered to be lobbyists.  Non-profit status is a luxury and the people who run non-profits know this or should. If ADF has found 35 pastors who are willing to toss away a good portion of their 'profits', it is a good bet these people are foolish enough to want a Bush/Palin administration in the first place.  

  •  Removing all tax exemption is a bad idea. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chocolate cliffs

    Quite a few churches - particularly churches in the inner city, which tend to be on rather valuable real estate but whose members tend to be from the lower strata of the income scale - are barely making it as it is.  Why should they be forced to shut their doors because pastors somewhere else can't keep from badgering their congregations in their voting choices?

    I've been a member of too many cash-strapped churches to get on board with this idea.  Any scheme in which (rules-following) churches would have to close because of taxation is, in my opinion, not only bad but dangerously close to being anti-religious.

    Join the Matthew 25 Network and help Democrats win the next generation of evangelicals.

    by mistersite on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:24:05 PM PDT

    •  Why (0+ / 0-)

      Why should I subsidise your religion?

      Best Wishes, Demena Economic Left/Right: -8.38
 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.36

      by Demena on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 06:37:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In what way exactly are you subsidizing it? (0+ / 0-)

        Does it cost you anything to have an organization not paying taxes - especially if it's not making a profit anyway?  Why should a church be treated any differently from any other nonprofit organization?

        Join the Matthew 25 Network and help Democrats win the next generation of evangelicals.

        by mistersite on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 06:51:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There are a lot of non-profits (0+ / 0-)

          that should not be subsidised.

          It isn't your local church, mosque, whatever that bothers me tho'.  It is the mega-churches, businesses and cults concealed as churches.  Too much evil is using religion as a shelter.  And there is much good that could do with shelters that don't get it.

          If you want to have some dialog, I'm open.

          Best Wishes, Demena Economic Left/Right: -8.38
 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.36

          by Demena on Mon Sep 29, 2008 at 05:24:04 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  The majority of Americans are perceived to be (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Christian. Thus, it is politically impossible to tax churches, as long as mosques and temples are also tax exempt. This is not a question of being consistent or rational; it is a matter of having a super majority in a more-or-less combined Republic/Democracy using its franchise to enforce its will. As soon as the number of atheists/agnostics becomes a larger minority and they become more vocal and visable, the church tax exemptions will be ended.

    I voted with my feet. Good Bye and Good Luck America!!

    by shann on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:33:09 PM PDT

  •  Tempting ... but ... no. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drbloodaxe, kyril

    As tempting as the suggestion is, really, I have to disagree with it.  I agree that churches that indulge in politics from the pulpit (as in this case) should lose their tax exemption.  

    To apply it to all churches, regardless of political activity or not, is opening a can of worms.  I can see punitive tax codes being enacted against "unpopular" churches, as well as a litany of lawsuits regarding that.  

    I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

    by Norbrook on Sun Sep 28, 2008 at 05:33:36 PM PDT

  •  Tax exempt status... (0+ / 0-)

    I think they should take the tax exempt status away from the churches whose pastors who endorsed/opposed a candidate openly from the pulpit. Their status should not be reinstated until that pastor leaves. Also, any subsequent church who hires this minister should be closely monitored for abuses.

    One of the reasons these churches don't fear the IRS is that they know their status will be reinstated almost instantly.

    The real motive behind this ploy is not first admendment rights, it is the desire by some churches to get "godly" individuals elected to office. Ones that have the same beliefs they do and will vote to change the laws to suit their interpretation of the Bible.

  •  Minefield (0+ / 0-)

    We can see the minefield tax exempt status of religious organizations create.  

    Look at individual taxpayers though.  Individuals that give to charity work pay less taxes.  Individuals who have a low income pay less.  I don't understand why Lakewood should get a pass on taxes so the local inner city church with high property value and low income could.  The code can be structured for these allowances.

    Mistersite, I can come across as anti-religious in my zeal.  While atheist myself, I appreciate the place religion has in our society.  I would like to see the tax exempt not become a shield for bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and sheer greed.  As of 2003 (according to the wiki) Robert Tilton was grossing 24 million a year... tax exempt.  This has to be restructured.

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