Saturday, May 9, 2009

Churches, the IRS, and Free Speech

Some of you may have heard that before the November 2008 election, some churches banded together and announced that they would be using their church platforms to specifically endorse a political candidate for POTUS. They called the event "Pulpit Freedom Sunday".

The reason this was news is because it is illegal. As per tax law, religious organizations who claim tax-exempt status are not permitted to endorse specific candidates; rather, they can only endorse specific causes (e.g. environmental laws, pro-life policies, etc.).

Well, it's now been months since the election and still no news from the IRS. Why?

The article points out potential reasons, including "the IRS has nothing to gain from a costly and mainly symbolic battle." This is probably the reason. I feel, though, this is unfortunate.

While I strongly believe in the right to free speech, I feel it is not the burden of the state to support it. In essence, that is what the state is doing for these churches through their tax-exempt status, which amounts to a subsidy for their activities. All of these churches are permitted to endorse Jesus for president if they wanted, as long as they paid taxes like any other organizations which are currently legally entitled to endorse candidates.*

I do wonder how the churches would view this, however, if the pulpits proclaiming freedom of speech had endorsed Obama for his pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-green policies? I can only imagine the gnashing of teeth that would come out over supporting law-breaking pro-gay rights religious leaders.

*(Note: this is similar to the Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Massachussetts which stopped providing adoption services due to their refusal to permit gays adopt with their service. It is not that they were not permitted to continue adoptions, rather they would have lost their tax-exempt status. Rather than cough up more money to maintain their anti-gay adoption stand, they just ceased the operation altogether. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, however, continued their adoption program and just pay their taxes.)

(Day 328)

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