Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pastors plan to defy IRS ban on political speech

Ministers will intentionally violate ban on campaigning by nonprofits in hopes of generating a test case.

By Duke Helfand,
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 25, 2008

Setting the stage for a collision of religion and politics, Christian ministers from California and 21 other states will use their pulpits Sunday to deliver political sermons or endorse presidential candidates -- defying a federal ban on campaigning by nonprofit groups.The pastors' advocacy could violate the Internal Revenue Service's rules against political speech with the purpose of triggering IRS investigations.

Read the rest here ... including this quote from All Saints rector Ed Bacon:

"Political activity and political expressions are very important, but partisan politics are . . . . a death knell to the prophetic freedom that any religious organization must protect," said the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena.

And here's the NPR story ... "Pastors To Preach Politics From The Pulpit"
by Barbara Bradley Hagerty


RonF said...

So tell me, Susan - what do you think of this?

Me, I think that churches have every right to take a position on a particular issue and still retain their not-for-profit tax-exempt status. But if it comes to "Vote for Joe Blow", then they should lost their tax-exempt status.

What do you think of the Catholic Bishops who are telling Biden, etc., that they are not to take Communion?

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

Here in Flint, Michigan the African-American churches have preached politics from the pulpit for 50 or more years.
I was one of those who stood behind All Saints against the IRS investigation into your case.
This is America, free speech is the foremost freedom we have. Government is supposed to be neutral on religion (not pro and not hostile, which they appear to be now) so this is a basic right worth fighting for.
Pastors should be free to preach whatever they want from the pulpit without punishment from the IRS. If their speech is too over the top, their congregations will either sit and love it, or vote with their feet.
When we have IRS agents looking into church sermons, George Orwell's 1984 is here, just a few years too late.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim of Michigan

David and John said...

This is just crazy. There is an enormous difference between promoting a stance on an issue and promoting a certain candidate.

If the IRS regulations were changed to allow political endorsements and campaigning for 501(c)3 religous organizations, it would be the beginning of the end for tax-exempt status for Churches in America. Politics is a dirty business, but religous extremism (i.e. fred phelps) is even dirtier. A combination of the two is, indeed, crazy.

RonF said...

Having said that, I think that this statement is incorrect:

These critics, such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argue that Sunday's sermons at churches in Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and other states will violate federal tax law by politicizing the pulpit.

Not that, mind you. That's true. This is what I have a problem with:

That, they believe, will undercut the independence churches have long enjoyed to speak out about moral and ethical issues in American life, including women's suffrage, child labor and civil rights.

No. Actually, what the current tax laws do is make churches dependent on the various levels of government. In return for tax exemptions, churches voluntarily give up the right to speak out in particular fashions. Notably, they give up the right to say that a given candidate is morally or spiritually unqualified to hold office. By taking a tax exemption, they have become dependent on the State.

OTOH, if a church can raise enough money to pay property taxes on their property and corporate income taxes on their collections, then they can choose to become independent of the State and they can say whatever they wish.

RonF said...

Pastors should be free to preach whatever they want from the pulpit without punishment from the IRS.

A requirement to pay the same taxes everyone else does is not punishment. An ability to avoid paying taxes is a privilege. That privilege is granted based on certain rules (which All Saints observed, in my opinion, and I favored it's position at the time and now). But being held to the bargain if you break the rules is not punishment.

If their speech is too over the top, their congregations will either sit and love it, or vote with their feet.

True but irrelevant. It's none of my or the IRS's business whether or not a sermon is popular with the hearers. What's their business is whether or not you are upholding your side of the bargain you struck.

Churches do not have an inherent right to be tax-exempt. It's a privilege that's been granted based on certain considerations.

We're not just talking about right-wing extremism, either. Do you think that if this rule was relaxed you wouldn't hear condemnation of President Bush and Senator McCain from Episcopal and UCC and UU and other pulpits? You don't think you'd hear calls to vote for Sen. Obama? Come now. Of course, many would class such churches as left-wing extremists, but overall it wouldn't be just extremists of either stripe to take advantage of such a change.

janinsanfran said...

Proponents of letting churches and other tax exempt organizations endorse political candidates need to say whether they also believe that the people have a right to know who is paying for candidates' campaigns. The practical effect of letting churches endorse candidates would be to allow large sums of money to be channeled to candidates from unidentified donors from entities that are legally allowed to keep their financial supporters secret. And the donors would get a tax deduction for contributing to the campaign through a church! Do we want more under-the-table money in politics?

This isn't about preventing churches from stating and working for their values. It's about churches' non-profit status conferring clear benefits to their donors -- benefits that if transferred to the political realm would make the movement of money in politics even more corrupt than it is now.

Jim of L-Town said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

Before there was an IRS who restricted speech in churches or non-profits.
We have taken a beautiful system and perverted it by slowly removing the liberty and freedom it was crafted with.
We have a President holding people indefinitely - some would say using torture - and that seemingly goes on.
If George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or any of the founding fathers dropped in now, they would hardly recognize what we have become.
The wrote in the means to fix what was wrong, slavery, etc., but I don't think they ever envisioned that the government would become the lead benefactor and controller of our lives.
Welcome to 2008.

A sinner saved by God's Grace

Jim of Michigan

RonF said...

Jim, I'm not clear on what you mean by your comment. Do you think that the IRS revoking the tax-exempt not-for-profit status of a church that endorses a specific candidate is equivalent to restricting that church's speech?

RonF said...

Susan, I'm quite curious to hear what you think of the Catholic Bishops' instruction to pro-abortion rights candidates and office holders such as Sen. Biden and Rep. Pelosi that they should not take Communion?

Do you think that telling people that they should not vote for any candidate who is pro-abortion rights (while not naming them specifically) is in violation of IRS guidelines? What about telling people that they should not vote for any candidate who is in favor of funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Jim of L-Town said...

For Ronf:

What I mean is that under the Constitution as it was marvelously fashioned there was no restriction of speech.
I am sure that the Founding Fathers never imagined an America where a pastor would be restricted in his pulpit speech by rules set by the government.
The IRS is the fanciful creation of a runaway bureaucracy. I don't believe those who founded our country ever imagined that anyone would be stupid enough to make rules that would cause people to have to be cautious about their speech, in church or out.
The idea of confiscatory taxes is an abomination of how our country was founded. Rules that allow the government to decide when speech can result in extra taxes, is tyranny.
We have headed down the slippery slope of government controlled speech. That should disturb not just one side, but all sides.
It should not be up to an IRS rule, commissioner, or Congressman, for that matter, what speech determines if you get a tax break or not.
Free speech is just that. Free.

A sinner saved by God's Grace.

Jim of Michigan