Sunday, September 28, 2008

Politics and the Pulpit

Religious and other non-profit organizations are exempt from federal income taxation under 26 U.S.C.A. § 501(c) (3). The exemption is conditioned on the organization’s nonparticipation in lobbying for or against legislation and on behalf of against any candidate in political campaigns. The law exempts:

Corporations . . . 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 . . . 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 . . . and which does not participate in, or intervene in . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.
The ban dates to 1954 when Sen. Lyndon Johnson proposed it in the 83rd Congress without any legislative history. A bill in the 110th Congress, H.R. 2275, seeks to “restore the Free Speech and First Amendment rights of churches and exempt organizations by repealing the 1954 Johnson Amendment”.

There is also an effort, today, September 28, by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) called the "Pulpit Initiative" (explained in an ADF Executive Summary) to challenge restrictions on the ability of churches to endorse or oppose political candidates. Pulpit Freedom Sunday directly challenge IRS regulations prohibiting political activity by churches and seeks to “reclaim pastors’ constitutional right to speak freely and truthfully from the pulpit”.

This year, the IRS has published a FAQ on the ban on political activity by 501(c)(3) organizations. The ban was upheld in Branch Ministries v. Rossotti, 211 F.3d 137 (D.C.Cir.2000) where a church in Binghamton, NY published a letter challenging candidate Bill Clinton's stance on abortion, homosexuality and sexual abstinence outside of marriage. After investigating, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of the church. The church sued the IRS but the district court ruled that the IRS had the authority to revoke the church's tax-exempt status. The Circuit Court upheld the lower court ruling.

The Pulpit Initiative faces opposition as three former IRS officials have sent a letter calling for an IRS investigation of the ADF attorneys under the professional standards for tax attorneys.

The BLS Library has reading on the topic. See A Voice for Nonprofits by Jeffrey M. Berry (Call # HD2769.2.U6 B47 2003).

1 comment:

c said...

It should be well noted that JUDAS ISCARIOT tried to use Jesus' ministry as a platform for political and military uprise.
He was in extreme error to say the least.

Jesus rebuked Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane for trying to use force on Jesus' captors putting to rest any misconceived notions that this was some uprising.

There are many other examples where Jesus went to great lengths to distance himself and his ministry from being considered political or military.
I am sickened by many things in the pulpit and find this "vain revolution for political freedom of speech" particularly irreprehensible and contrary to the teachings and overall impetus of Jesus' ministry.

As a sideline note I would also like to point out that none of the candidates are running for office of priest or pastor.
To criticize one politician for being "pro choice" or in favor of stem cell research while giving full support to a candidate who advocates fully the use of war, torture, and nuclear armament not only for defense but also as a " first strike" option, is garbage and contradicts all that Jesus came to establish as his message and legacy.

I would like to add another thought that sacrificing a church's tax exempt status is extremely irresponsible when considering that the minister is being entrusted with money that did not come from him nor belongs to him.
(see all the biblical listings for stewardship).

I would like to charge and challenge all elders and/ or board members to challenge and rebuke your pastor if you feel he is abusing his post of shepherd for the sake of spewing politically in a place that should bring respite from all of this rather than becoming a platform for it.