Pastors may force another "citzen's united" case

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http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/23/more-than-1000-pastors-plan-to-challenge-irs-by-endorsing-presidential-candidate/

More than 1,000 pastors plan to openly defy the IRS by telling their congregation on October 7 to vote for a particular presidential candidate, according to Fox News.

The annual event, dubbed "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," has been organized by the conservative Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom. The pastors participating in the event plan to preach about the election, endorse a candidate, and send video of their sermon to the IRS.

"The purpose is to make sure that the pastor - and not the IRS - decides what is said from the pulpit," Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the group, told FoxNews.com. "It is a head-on constitutional challenge."

The Johnson amendment in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt charities and churches from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. The IRS has been reluctant to revoke churches' tax-exempt status for violating the more than 50-year-old IRS rule, but the agency has issued written warnings to dozens of churches.

"The IRS will send out notices from time to time and say you crossed the line," Jim Garlow, a senior pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, told FoxNews.com. "But when it's time to go to court, they close the case."

The goal of Pulpit Freedom Sunday is to force the IRS to take churches to court and have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional.

Americans United for Church and State has pushed back against the event, sending letters to 60,000 houses of worship that urge them to obey federal tax law.

"People don't join churches because they want to be told how to vote," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Our letter reminds religious leaders about what the law requires, why it makes sense and how it could affect them."

"Most clergy of all faiths know it's inappropriate to use their pulpits to stump for political candidates," he added. "But there are very vocal misguided religious and political forces that constantly prod religious leaders to violate federal tax law. We urge clergy to just say no."

In response, the Alliance Defending Freedom accused Americans United for Church and State of trying to "intimidate churches into silence."

I saw this part of the story and just had to ask:

Would this be possible?

And how far would the consequences go?

So, Escapist, is a "citizen's united" case for religion going to be the worst thing to happen, or is the system already broken enough that nothing can make it worse?

Well unions in my country (who generally don't pay tax because they are non-profit organizations) most certainly tell their members who to vote for, so I don't see why a church shouldn't be allowed to do the same.

I can't imagine it makes much difference come voting time anyway. Just because I belong to union X or church Y doesn't mean that I'm going to vote the way they'd like.

Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Go ahead pastors, thumb your nose at the IRS in a thoroughly misguided attempt to pretend you're defending free speech. Then get your tax-exempt status withheld. Go for it.

You gotta love the conservative mindset sometimes. Taxes are bad. Christianity is good. There's an arrangement in US law that lets pastors get what they want on both counts. And they're going to risk throwing that away to spite the system that is already designed to support them over others.

I don't think this is bad. They are already not paying taxes. I don't see why when preaching gospel the priest can't endorse a political candidate. I can see that it's not their place as a pastor to tell their congregation who to vote for since they indirectly speak for god - which is why this gives me a bad stomach ache whenever I think about it. I'll begrudgingly allow it if it was up to me, but to be realistic here my word doesn't count.

In all honesty, I think the law may just be Unconstitutional. The principal effect of tax exemption for churches is to advance religion. Prong 2 of Lemon, open and shut. Preachers should be able to say what they want without risking financial penalties. They should also pay taxes.

I have no idea whether they could win a case like this if it went to court, but what are the best and worst case scenarios if it did? Either they get to endorse or speak against candidates and keep their tax exemption status which is effectively what's happening now, or they get to endorse a candidate and lose their tax exempt status? Frankly, I'd be all for them losing their tax exempt status so if there's a chance that could happen and at worst absolutely nothing actually changes then I may be all for them taking this to court.

Well, that churches are excempt from taxes despite being fabulously rich and not in any way being a charity, was a huge mistake to begin with, so one can only hope this ends in them being taxed over it.

I mean, if I threaten a bunch of people with bad stuff unless they give me part of their income, I go to jail for extortion. If a priest does the same, it's legal? Sorry, what?

Well, I don't see the problem here. The pastor can preach whatever he wants. If you tell people how to better they're lives every week, improving the country you live in would fall under that.

Seanchaidh:
In all honesty, I think the law may just be Unconstitutional. The principal effect of tax exemption for churches is to advance religion. Prong 2 of Lemon, open and shut. Preachers should be able to say what they want without risking financial penalties. They should also pay taxes.

Preachers should pay taxes, not for profit institutions like most churches should not.

Blablahb:
Well, that churches are excempt from taxes despite being fabulously rich and not in any way being a charity, was a huge mistake to begin with, so one can only hope this ends in them being taxed over it.

Most churches are not fabulously rich and they most certainly are charities.

You can argue against tax exempt status if you like, but making up lies doesn't help.

Wolverine18:
Most churches are not fabulously rich and they most certainly are charities.

What's so charitable about using social pressure and lies to extort money from your members to further your own selfish causes? Mostly that sort of activity gets labeled anywhere between unethical business practises to fraud and extortion. I've never ran across a commercial enterprise who got tax excempted on the basis of them selling hot air, have you? So why should a special exception be made for selling religious hot air?

And seriously, ever looked through the fabulous amount of money being pumped around everywhere for evangelism? People who never work an honest day's work in their lives and live off grants so they can convert more people? So-called 'charities' which convert first and help second? Churches are fabulously rich. For certain rich enough to pay their taxes just like everybody else.

Shadowstar38:
Well, I don't see the problem here. The pastor can preach whatever he wants. If you tell people how to better they're lives every week, improving the country you live in would fall under that.

Except that isn't the problem, here. Churches are tax-exempt because they are non-profit, charitable, and non-political. By openly endorsing a specific Presidential candidate, they are deliberately getting involved in a political campaign. If the pastor is being paid to go to the church and preach, and what he's preaching is encouraging people to support a specific political candidate, then it can be said the money being earned by the church is going to a political effort. And if they are supporting a political effort with their money, they are not tax-exempt.

http://www.speakupmovement.org/Church/Content/PDF/01Stanleyvol.24.2.pdf
Here is an article on the topic of the constitutionality of the law. I have only read the first few paragraphs so far. According to the article this event has been going on yearly since 2008 with no action taken by the IRS. That in itself could set a bad precedent.

Talking about politics in a church just seems like a good way to reduce your congregation greatly in some places and prevent new members from joining in others. So your decrying the satan that is Obama then suddenly your left leaning parishioners are hunting for a new church. Even if they win the ability to talk politics at the pulpit its just gonna screw church's that decide to do it over in the end.

Lilani:

Shadowstar38:
Well, I don't see the problem here. The pastor can preach whatever he wants. If you tell people how to better they're lives every week, improving the country you live in would fall under that.

Except that isn't the problem, here. Churches are tax-exempt because they are non-profit, charitable, and non-political.

non-profit...non-political

non-political

implying that groups like media matters or the heritage foundation aren't political.

Blablahb:

Wolverine18:
Most churches are not fabulously rich and they most certainly are charities.

What's so charitable about using social pressure and lies to extort money from your members to further your own selfish causes? Mostly that sort of activity gets labeled anywhere between unethical business practises to fraud and extortion. I've never ran across a commercial enterprise who got tax excempted on the basis of them selling hot air, have you? So why should a special exception be made for selling religious hot air?

And seriously, ever looked through the fabulous amount of money being pumped around everywhere for evangelism? People who never work an honest day's work in their lives and live off grants so they can convert more people? So-called 'charities' which convert first and help second? Churches are fabulously rich. For certain rich enough to pay their taxes just like everybody else.

"lies to extort money" and "hot air" is formed completely from your own opinion of what you think churches are for. In most cases, it's a place of worship where people are taught by their pastor to be better people. You don't have to subscibe to the notion religion is for the betterment of anything, but calling it all a big scam is vile.

Lilani:

Shadowstar38:
Well, I don't see the problem here. The pastor can preach whatever he wants. If you tell people how to better they're lives every week, improving the country you live in would fall under that.

Except that isn't the problem, here. Churches are tax-exempt because they are non-profit, charitable, and non-political. By openly endorsing a specific Presidential candidate, they are deliberately getting involved in a political campaign. If the pastor is being paid to go to the church and preach, and what he's preaching is encouraging people to support a specific political candidate, then it can be said the money being earned by the church is going to a political effort. And if they are supporting a political effort with their money, they are not tax-exempt.

Could be said yes. But I think it's kind of a stretch. The money isnt directly funding the canidate. It's going to the exact same things churches always use the money for(keeping the building running, charity work, ect). The people in the church will already be gathered there regardless so giving out voting advice doesnt seem devious.

Templar_Gamer:
implying that groups like media matters or the heritage foundation aren't political.

I don't think either of those are churches so I'm not very familiar with their tax statuses and why they achieve them.

Shadowstar38:
Could be said yes. But I think it's kind of a stretch. The money isnt directly funding the canidate. It's going to the exact same things churches always use the money for(keeping the building running, charity work, ect). The people in the church will already be gathered there regardless so giving out voting advice doesnt seem devious.

No, they aren't giving their money directly to the candidate. However, if they turn their services into weekly pep rallies for that candidate and host and promote activities such as sign-making and the like, then it becomes rather difficult to claim the money isn't being used for political purposes.

TheStatutoryApe:
http://www.speakupmovement.org/Church/Content/PDF/01Stanleyvol.24.2.pdf
Here is an article on the topic of the constitutionality of the law. I have only read the first few paragraphs so far. According to the article this event has been going on yearly since 2008 with no action taken by the IRS. That in itself could set a bad precedent.

I found this article as well, but it's sponsored by the same group involved in the 1000 pastor protest. I'm not a lawyer, but the only arguments I'm finding against the law are coming from the group protesting the law.

Seeing as this coalition represents 2% of (1000 / 60000) of the houses of worship in the US, I'm guessing the IRS rather not kick the hornets nest. I am curious though if this 2% includes wealthy mega-churches (eg Joel Osteen) or a mix of churces.

Lilani:

Shadowstar38:
Could be said yes. But I think it's kind of a stretch. The money isnt directly funding the canidate. It's going to the exact same things churches always use the money for(keeping the building running, charity work, ect). The people in the church will already be gathered there regardless so giving out voting advice doesnt seem devious.

No, they aren't giving their money directly to the candidate. However, if they turn their services into weekly pep rallies for that candidate and host and promote activities such as sign-making and the like, then it becomes rather difficult to claim the money isn't being used for political purposes.

Okay.

Telling them who's a better canidate- sounds legit

Making signs and full blown rallies- I gotta say that would go way too far.

Shadowstar38:
Okay.

Telling them who's a better canidate- sounds legit

Making signs and full blown rallies- I gotta say that would go way too far.

Yeah, it's sort of a "Give them an inch and they'll take a mile" situation. Yes a pastor mentioning who they support and why is in general pretty benign, because usually when it comes to pastors who like to bring politics to the pulpit you can tell pretty quick who they support whether or not they actually say a name. However, if you slacken the rule and say they can do that, then what's stopping the REALLY political pastors from turning EVERY SERVICE in their church during election season into political events? So the way I see it, it's best to just keep the two as far away as possible.

Tax them. We could afford to send a mars rover every two weeks off the revenue. They can say whatever they want if they're funding our new moon base.

If a church doesn't qualify to be tax-exempt based on its non-profit and political status, it should not get special treatment just for being a church. I'm perfectly fine with them getting tax breaks so long as they qualify, but when people flaunt the law like this I think it's justified to have the hammer come down hard.

dmase:
Talking about politics in a church just seems like a good way to reduce your congregation greatly in some places and prevent new members from joining in others. So your decrying the satan that is Obama then suddenly your left leaning parishioners are hunting for a new church. Even if they win the ability to talk politics at the pulpit its just gonna screw church's that decide to do it over in the end.

At this point, the Religious Right have already chased off any worshippers who don't wholeheartedly believe that Reagan outranks Jesus.

I would do it with every Religious center, we would get a lot of money off the Mormons and catholic churches :)

arbane:

dmase:
Talking about politics in a church just seems like a good way to reduce your congregation greatly in some places and prevent new members from joining in others. So your decrying the satan that is Obama then suddenly your left leaning parishioners are hunting for a new church. Even if they win the ability to talk politics at the pulpit its just gonna screw church's that decide to do it over in the end.

At this point, the Religious Right have already chased off any worshippers who don't wholeheartedly believe that Reagan outranks Jesus.

I thought they already did that with republican version of Jesus :)

http://www.prosebeforehos.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/real-jesus-vs-republican-jesus.jpg

Shadowstar38:
"lies to extort money" and "hot air" is formed completely from your own opinion

No, it's fact. And will remain fact untill a church presents empirical proof that their fictional god exists.

Seanchaidh:
In all honesty, I think the law may just be Unconstitutional. The principal effect of tax exemption for churches is to advance religion. Prong 2 of Lemon, open and shut. Preachers should be able to say what they want without risking financial penalties. They should also pay taxes.

Reference for those wondering what 501(c)(3) and the Lemon Test refers to:

Full text of 26 U.S.C. Sec. 501(c)(3): List of tax exempt organizations:
Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

[Link]

Lemon Test:
1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose

2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion

3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

[Lemon v. Kurtzman]

If Roberts' recent decision in NFIB v. Sebelius is any indication, the taxation and spending powers are given a very wide range of discretion.

As for your point on prong 2 of the Lemon test, the action (i.e. the statute) has the primary goal of reducing the tax liability on charity organizations such as Catholic Charities, The Boys and Girls Club, 4H, United Way, etc. and essentially acknowledges that most religious organizations participate to some significant degree in charitable activity. There can be no direct or explicit support for a candidate by those organizations (although there's a hole that you can drive a truck through by having a politician as a guest speaker), but they can put up what are known as "issue advertising" (another hole you can drive a truck through, it's classified as "education" for the purposes of the statute), whereby they can make attacks and simply add "go call your representative" to be compliant with the law. There is no actual interference with religious practices, only the relatively minor restriction is meant to prevent government-supported organizations (being tax exempt is a significant support mechanism for such organization and greatly reduces their expenditures) from engaging directly in the electoral process and influencing members of the charity or church in their votes.

In short: there's nothing preventing a church or any organization from engaging in this activity, but the government reserves the right to revoke the status of non-compliant organizations and reassign them to the same category as political action committees that engage in that activity already.

Blablahb:

Shadowstar38:
"lies to extort money" and "hot air" is formed completely from your own opinion

No, it's fact. And will remain fact untill a church presents empirical proof that their fictional god exists.

Well you devolved this into bias nonsense rather quickly.

I'll end this conversation here.

Blablahb:

Shadowstar38:
"lies to extort money" and "hot air" is formed completely from your own opinion

No, it's fact. And will remain fact untill a church presents empirical proof that their fictional god exists.

The church I went to did not extort money and was not rich. Same for the 3 churches on the street behind me. Same really for any church in this town.

That said I do think that churches that turn political should be taxed, the law already says you can't be political but they do it anyway. I say if they wanna take political sides then tax'em.

Comocat:

TheStatutoryApe:
http://www.speakupmovement.org/Church/Content/PDF/01Stanleyvol.24.2.pdf
Here is an article on the topic of the constitutionality of the law. I have only read the first few paragraphs so far. According to the article this event has been going on yearly since 2008 with no action taken by the IRS. That in itself could set a bad precedent.

I found this article as well, but it's sponsored by the same group involved in the 1000 pastor protest. I'm not a lawyer, but the only arguments I'm finding against the law are coming from the group protesting the law.

Seeing as this coalition represents 2% of (1000 / 60000) of the houses of worship in the US, I'm guessing the IRS rather not kick the hornets nest. I am curious though if this 2% includes wealthy mega-churches (eg Joel Osteen) or a mix of churces.

I saw that it was hosted on their site but got there via another site. I've only read about half so far. If its not filled with blatant misinformation there would seem to be at least a very good argument that the law is selectively enforced. I assume this is one of the reasons none of the pastors involved in the protest have had anything happen to them.

The Oracle of Captcha says: no stinkin badges

Don't endorse political candidates you morons. If my hyper-conservative father can manage not to cross the line, you better fucking believe you can too. Stop waving around your mega church dicks and realize that this is hardly worth fighting over and will destroy the smaller congregations out there if you really fuck this up. Fucking imbeciles.

Shadowstar38:

Lilani:

Shadowstar38:
Could be said yes. But I think it's kind of a stretch. The money isnt directly funding the canidate. It's going to the exact same things churches always use the money for(keeping the building running, charity work, ect). The people in the church will already be gathered there regardless so giving out voting advice doesnt seem devious.

No, they aren't giving their money directly to the candidate. However, if they turn their services into weekly pep rallies for that candidate and host and promote activities such as sign-making and the like, then it becomes rather difficult to claim the money isn't being used for political purposes.

Okay.

Telling them who's a better canidate- sounds legit

Making signs and full blown rallies- I gotta say that would go way too far.

http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Charitable-Organizations/The-Restriction-of-Political-Campaign-Intervention-by-Section-501%28c%29%283%29-Tax-Exempt-Organizations

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) 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. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made 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. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

No, telling them who is a better candidate does not sound legit.

Blablahb:

Shadowstar38:
"lies to extort money" and "hot air" is formed completely from your own opinion

No, it's fact. And will remain fact untill a church presents empirical proof that their fictional god exists.

So everything without solid empirical proof is a lie? That sounds pretty fucking dumb. Damn empiricists, thinking they're the end all of epistemologies. Especially when you consider that many empirically supported theories have been overturned in light of later found data. The truth is, empiricism is only true to one degree or another, and never to an absolute degree. It can only tell us what is and is not empirically supportable, which is far from useful in many debates, and often allows for somewhat conflicting theories to be supportable. Still, this ignores the fact that the vast majority of "truths" we say are impossible to empirically prove or disprove. Everyday life does not require that rigor.

There's something called the separation of church and state. The churches already have a very strange association with politics in the states, so this might be finally the time when the church will have no longer any political power or risk being taxed. I welcome that. Those pastors have no idea what they're getting into.

After that all, that's the contract. They're tax exempt as long as they remain non-political.

The Bible is very clear that Christians are to respect their government authority. This is very ironic.

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