(c) Mary Griggs
Since 1954, IRS rules have stated that tax-exempt organizations 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.”
There are a number of pastors who want to challenge that rule. They intend to stand at their pulpits on October 7th on what they are calling “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” and endorse a candidate. To make sure that the IRS can’t ignore this deliberate violation of the rules regarding their 501c3 status, they will have the sermon recorded and mailed to the Department of the Treasury.
501c3 organizations are granted tax exempt status for them to serve the public benefit. Unlike a for profit company, non-profits cannot benefit private interests, shareholders or individuals. That would include political candidates.
Religious organizations are allowed to have activities that encourage participation in the political process like voter registrations and educating people on the issues and candidates. They are just prohibited from being partisan about it.
Instead of obeying a very reasonable rule, the pastors believe it is an unconstitutional infringement on religious liberty.
There is no abridgment of religious freedom because the government is not compelling the pastors to accept tax-exempt status for their church. If the church relinquishes its tax-exempt status, the minister is perfectly free to say whatever s/he wants about any political candidate. You won’t see the pastors doing that, of course, because it is not religious freedom they are after. They want the freedom to conduct partisan political campaigns from the pulpit while receiving a government subsidy.
Claiming persecution from the government while simultaneously benefiting from government-sponsored tax breaks is the height of hypocrisy!
The United States Constitution begins with the establishment clause. Not only is the government not allowed to force any religious organization to adhere to any particular theological, spiritual and moral convictions, no religious institution can impose its particular views on the American public. The free exercise of religion clause requires that we respect the conscience and convictions and the many religious and non-religious people across the nation.
Tax exemption is not mentioned in the Constitution. It is a benefit, and as such it may be extended with conditions. One of those conditions is that houses of worship and other groups that accept tax exemption must refrain from intervening in partisan elections.
It is quite true that for the first hundred and thirty odd years of our Republic that pastors freely politicized their pulpits, including advocating slavery as a biblical mandate during the Civil War. However, it wasn’t until the Revenue Act of 1917 that the government first granted tax-exempt status to charitable organizations, including churches.
In 1954, when Lyndon Johnson was a Senator, it was recognized that allowing such organizations to make political endorsements went against the public good. The Johnson Amendment has already withstood a legal challenge when the IRS revoked the tax exemption of a church that took out a newspaper ad denouncing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. In 2000, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Branch Ministries v. Rossotti “saw no violation of free speech, no violation of freedom of exercise, because tax exemption is not a right.”
Religion has too much influence on politics as it is without turning the churches into government-subsidized campaign venues. Report violations of the 501c3 status to Americans United for Separation of Church and State using this form.