ONTD Political

Pulpit Freedom Sunday -- Should the Church Be Tax-Exempt?

11:15 am - 10/03/2012
Pulpit Freedom Sunday -- Should the Church Be Tax-Exempt?
by Steve Siebold

An army of more than 1,000 pastors from around the country will take on the IRS this coming Sunday by participating in what's being called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." Under the Johnson Amendment, tax-exempt organizations, including churches, are not allowed to endorse any candidate running for elective public office. The real issue behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday is whether or not free speech reigns irrefutably over tax-exempt organizations, or should groups such as churches be permitted to make political recommendations to its members? And beyond that, the even larger question is why are churches still classified as tax-exempt?



Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian organization behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, says it's unconstitutional and pastors are being censored, and the church across America is being silenced. They're encouraging pastors to preach politics this Sunday, and to record the sermons and mail them to the IRS. The group is hoping the IRS will follow through on its threats of removing the tax-exempt status of a church caught preaching politics, so it can bring the matter to a judge to decide, because they say a judge is likely to see it as a clear violation of the First Amendment.



In general, the government should not have the right to suppress free speech. Freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and is guaranteed to all Americans. However, in regards to Pulpit Freedom Day, the church can't have its cake and eat it too. If it wants to be classified as a tax-exempt organization, then it needs to play by the rules and abstain from preaching politics.



Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code describes what the government considers to be an eligible nonprofit, religious group. "A tax-exempt religious organization is a legal entity or vehicle created and operated exclusively for religious purposes, no part of the net earnings of which insures to the benefit of any private individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in or interfere in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."



With that said, the church in America saves roughly 71 billion dollars annually by being tax-exempt. Imagine how much food that could buy to feed the hungry, or how it could help those less fortunate. This might be acceptable if the church was actually encouraging strategies to reduce human suffering, irresponsible behavior that harms others, ending violence in our neighborhoods and other critical issues. Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress.



Not only that, but when you have church leaders living the lap of luxury in million dollar homes and flying around in private jets, why exactly is the church tax-exempt? An example of this is Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist from Texas.



Copeland owns a gigantic 18,000 sq. foot lake house on Eagle Mountain Lake in Newark, Texas, complete with an onsite airport. In 2007, Copeland was accused of using his $20 million Cessna Citation X jet for personal vacations and friends, and luckily his second private Citation jet was denied tax-exemption after Copeland refused to submit to disclosure laws for the state of Texas.



Critical thinking questions whether this kind of prosperity puts the focus on money or God? Conveniently for Kenneth Copeland, he practices what's been coined "Prosperity gospel," which teaches that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth. Ironically, the Bible contradicts this idea, and in Proverbs 23:4 says, "Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it."



It's time for the government to stop subsidizing religion and phase out this special privilege of tax-exemptions to churches. Pastors and church leaders need to make a choice: feel free to talk politics all they want from the pulpit, but be willing to pay the consequences.



The IRS needs to get tough with churches and enforce the law, and be willing to fight the matter in court. It's shameful enough that churches are already off the hook for paying their fair share, so considering what they get away with they should just play it smart, keep quiet and stay out of politics.



Technically speaking, when a 501(c)(3) church openly speaks out, or organizes in opposition to, anything that the government declares legal such as same sex marriage or abortion, it is already putting its tax-exempt status in jeopardy. The church knows the IRS will rarely come after them, so they continue to push the limits.



For now churches will remain tax-exempt, and while by law they aren't supposed to be pushing messages on politics and certain other agendas, it seems some will, especially this coming Sunday. The sad part is very few Americans possess much knowledge on Christianity beyond what their pastor tells them on Sunday. It's been estimated that fewer than 10 percent of professed Christians have actually read the entire Bible, and only a fraction of those have seriously studied it. Most people believe because they have been brainwashed to believe.



The bottom line is people need to start thinking for themselves. Do your own research, engage in critical thinking and come to your own conclusions. Don't let your pastor or anyone else who may be misinformed make the decision for you. When you cast your ballot this November, make the choice that you believe is best for America because it's what you believe, and not because it's how your pastor or anyone else told you to vote.

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rainbow_fish 3rd-Oct-2012 03:24 pm (UTC)
In general, the government should not have the right to suppress free speech. Freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and is guaranteed to all Americans. However, in regards to Pulpit Freedom Day, the church can't have its cake and eat it too. If it wants to be classified as a tax-exempt organization, then it needs to play by the rules and abstain from preaching politics.

This.
metanoiame 3rd-Oct-2012 03:32 pm (UTC)
Yup, seems pretty straightforward.
astridmyrna 3rd-Oct-2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
On the one hand, that money that'll come from the churches can go into a lot of good, like education, welfare, or even a better gov't healthcare system.

On the other hand, churches will wank that their money is spent against things they want and since they put so much money in the gov't, they want more of a voice in the gov't, which could further blur the (supposed to be clear) line between church and state.

On the other hand, these churches are already telling their members who to vote for, so they may as well pony up the cash.

On the other hand, these churches will want more power because they are putting so much money in the gov't.

.....

Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian organization behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, says it's unconstitutional and pastors are being censored, and the church across America is being silenced.
wingstar102 3rd-Oct-2012 03:42 pm (UTC)
I never understood Modern Christianity. Happily. Makes me happy that I'm a solitary Wiccan. We don't really have to deal with our "priests" pulling these stunts.
astridmyrna 3rd-Oct-2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
Well, I think the problem is when you have a majority religion who has been the majority for centuries and has had some swaying power in politics, you end up with a religion that expects to have its cake and eat it too.
simply_blah 3rd-Oct-2012 03:45 pm (UTC)
If they can stay out of politics, sure. Until then, no!
kitbug 3rd-Oct-2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
Fuck the church.
anolinde 3rd-Oct-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Pay up and shut up imo.
the_gabih 3rd-Oct-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
Yeah, no. Either you're tax-exempt, or you get to throw your support and money behind politicians. Pick one.
anjak_j 3rd-Oct-2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
This.
mutive 3rd-Oct-2012 03:50 pm (UTC)
What would make sense to me would be to divorce religious organizations from the charity services they provide.

This way, churches can say whatever they want (and fly private jets around), but only on taxable income.

Meanwhile, if they want to help the poor and down trodden, they can do this, be tax exempt, and keep their mouths shut on anything other than the particular cause the organization is representing.

Of course, obviously there's going to be some corruption. But I'd think that this would at least cut down on it somewhat. (Esp. if careful book keeping was required to prove that all money used on charitable activities was charitable and fairly politics-free.)
sparkindarkness 3rd-Oct-2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
This. Make actual charity work - REAL charity work - by a church tax deductable.
offside_element Colbert Interviews Jim Garlow About Pulpit Freedom Sunday3rd-Oct-2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
ETA: Embedding won't work. Direct link here: http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/419724/october-02-2012/pulpit-freedom-sunday---jim-garlow

Edited at 2012-10-03 03:53 pm (UTC)
poetic_pixie_13 3rd-Oct-2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
I'm heavily side-eyeing some of the language used in this post. ("Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress." Really, dude?)

Buuuuuuuuut I do agree with the general point. Churches as an institution shouldn't be tax exempt. And if they want to keep that status they certainly shouldn't be fighting to preach politics. No.

I'd be down with, say, actual charitable stuff houses of worship do being tax exempt. But not the entire institutions. Cause. No.
mysid 3rd-Oct-2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
"...they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress."

Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good definition of religion to me. However, I'd modify the preceding statement to "Some churches serve the common good," since some do indeed focus on helping people.
thecityofdis 3rd-Oct-2012 04:04 pm (UTC)
I am no big lover of the vast majority of churches, and think they should either have zero involvement in politics or be taxed. (Or both. I can dream.)

That said, this is a sloppy article.

This might be acceptable if the church was actually encouraging strategies to reduce human suffering, irresponsible behavior that harms others, ending violence in our neighborhoods and other critical issues. Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress.

Such an enormously broad brush is ignorant and concerning from somebody whose byline kvells that he is an "expert in the field of critical thinking and mental toughness training". Also, anyone who takes potshots at people for believing in ~omg a magical sky fairy~ is an ass, sorry.

Not only that, but when you have church leaders living the lap of luxury in million dollar homes and flying around in private jets, why exactly is the church tax-exempt?

Because there is only one church and one style of church, and they all have the same pay rates. Megachurches tend to make people rich - that's not a secret. But the vast majority of church staff and pastors make below median pay for the average American household, and ignoring this because it's inconvenient makes the author either look like an idiot or a cheat.

It's fine if he wants to talk, specifically, about the hypocrisy of megachurches, about how they spend too much lining people's pockets and not enough on charity. I'd agree completely.

But that distinction isn't made here, and the result is intellectual dishonesty.
mutive 3rd-Oct-2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I agree. The entire article comes off as incredibly anti-religion.

I think some of their points are decent (like that if churches want to preach politics, they perhaps should not be tax exempt). But...the idea that religion is always inherently evil isn't someone who's view I trust when it comes to discussing religion. (Or someone who seems convinced that all religions/churches are absolutely identical.)
mirhanda 3rd-Oct-2012 04:20 pm (UTC)
I think if religious organizations are going to be political entities as well, they are more than welcome to do so, but then they must join us taxpayers and pay their fair share. If they want to keep to their specialty and take care of our souls, then fine, they can be tax exempt.
vapor 3rd-Oct-2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
I just came here to say I am stealing your icon!
rainbow_fish 3rd-Oct-2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
Is ONTD_P looking wonky for anyone else?
sparkindarkness 3rd-Oct-2012 05:04 pm (UTC)
I'd say tax the churches - and then throw in deductions for actual charity work. If their funds are dedicated towards charity, then they'll pay no taxes, when it deviates from that they get a bill
anjak_j 3rd-Oct-2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
MTE.
squeeful 3rd-Oct-2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
No, never. If you tax religious institutions, you have put them on the same ground as any other tax-paying citizen and they have a RIGHT of say in the government. Yes, they are already donating for causes and preaching for votes, but if someone is violating a law or the spirit of a law/county, the answer isn't MAKE IT LEGITIMATE. Fuck no, that's lazy, unethical, and as much a piss on the idea of separation of church and state as the original offense. Do not roll over for them. Better regulate who can donate and monetarily lobby for political causes.
skellington1 3rd-Oct-2012 05:45 pm (UTC)
I think I agree with that as long as Citizens United stands. If they reverse that and restore us to 'people are people, groups of people do not necessarily have the same rights as individuals' then it might be different. I do think the we may have moved beyond the original historical aim of church tax exemptions, though. I'm always a bit bemused that no one ever brings it up in these discussions.

I've been feeling fairly antitheist rather than neutral lately entirely because of churches meddling in politics, but I still think it's far more complex than the author makes it out to be -- and the aim of tax exemption was never about whether or not churches performed charities or benefited the common good; it was all about preserving the rights of minority religions and equality between sects.
mollywobbles867 3rd-Oct-2012 05:18 pm (UTC)
I think removing tax exempt status from churches would make them even more involved government than they already are. No thank you.
vulturoso 3rd-Oct-2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
No religious institution should be tax exempt. Period.
hammersxstrings 3rd-Oct-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
no.
jettakd 3rd-Oct-2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian organization behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, says it's unconstitutional and pastors are being censored, and the church across America is being silenced.

Photobucket

that said, taxing churches/temples, etc. is actually more complicated than this article makes it out. Not only would it give religious groups more legit say in government, but also a lot of churches? Don't monetarily back candidates. My parents' church can't afford to. Megachurches vs regular churches is a whole different playing field.
tigerdreams 3rd-Oct-2012 07:11 pm (UTC)
*rightclick-save*

I think any religious institution that doesn't violate the law and support political candidates and positions should retain its tax-exempt status -- or, even better, religious institutions could be held to the same rules regarding non-profit organizations as apply to secular groups. Any church that isn't being run as a for-profit enterprise should have little difficulty adhering to those rules.
kishmet 3rd-Oct-2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress.

And that paragraph was going so well, too

That said, this is a bullshit freedom of speech argument anyway because a lot of church leaders (mostly conservative ones) make VERY clear which type of candidates they're backing anyway, and by extension which type their congregation should vote for. Which is ludicrous for other reasons since it stifles and alienates anyone who might vote for, you know, candidates who support Jesus's whole 'aid the poor' notion but w/e

Also that "prosperity gospel" guy is a fucking jackass
sixdemonhag 3rd-Oct-2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
It's been estimated that fewer than 10 percent of professed Christians have actually read the entire Bible, and only a fraction of those have seriously studied it.

I was pretty religious when I was a kid, and it was actually reading the Bible that made me leave Christianity. Shit made NO sense, and God was a real jerk.
rex_dart 3rd-Oct-2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
the bible is one of two books i ever put my mind to reading and simply gave up on as something i could never, ever make it through.

the other was les miserables, and i made it way farther in that than i did in the bible.

and i've read the silmarillion, so it's not like i can't deal with dense bullshit.
celtic_thistle 3rd-Oct-2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
imo, tax the shit out of the Catholic Church for telling people how to vote and spiritually blackmailing them into doing it.
redstar826 3rd-Oct-2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
An example of this is Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist from Texas.
Copeland owns a gigantic 18,000 sq. foot lake house on Eagle Mountain Lake in Newark, Texas, complete with an onsite airport.


Most churches aren't mega churches though. For every really huge church there are many more little churches. Some of which are barely making ends meet. Most ministers do not make big bucks. If anything, the pay is pretty low considering the hours (bear in mind that many churches expect their pastor to drop everything to come visit people in hospital, to be there for families who have just had a tragedy, etc) and the fact that ministers often have advanced degrees. It isn't unheard of for a minister of a small church to work a second job because the church can't pay them much.

This Copeland dude is hardly the norm for church pastors and the fact that the author just presents this guy without noting just exceptional it is to earn that kind of money as a minister doesn't sit well with me.

he sad part is very few Americans possess much knowledge on Christianity beyond what their pastor tells them on Sunday. It's been estimated that fewer than 10 percent of professed Christians have actually read the entire Bible, and only a fraction of those have seriously studied it.

but how would changing tax laws would actually change people's understanding of the Bible? Also, I think you can have a pretty good understanding of the Bible without necessarily studying it from cover to cover.

johnjie 3rd-Oct-2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
Personally, I don't believe that churches should be tax exempt, but that's just my $0.2.
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