LA Times: Pastors plan to defy IRS ban on political speech

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Setting the stage for a collision of religion and politics, Christian ministers from California and 21 other states will use their pulpits Sunday to deliver political sermons or endorse presidential candidates -- defying a federal ban on campaigning by nonprofit groups.

The pastors' advocacy could violate the Internal Revenue Service's rules against political speech with the purpose of triggering IRS investigations.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General

Posted September 26, 2008 at 1:57 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Bernini wrote:

Just the Holy Spirit doing a new thing. Nothing to see…move along…

September 26, 2:05 pm | [comment link]
2. Jim the Puritan wrote:

Dumb move.

September 26, 2:19 pm | [comment link]
3. Irenaeus wrote:

The “freedom” for churches to endorse political candidates or act like political parties is not a freedom any Christian should desire.

September 26, 2:23 pm | [comment link]
4. COLUMCIL wrote:


September 26, 2:29 pm | [comment link]
5. Timothy Fountain wrote:

The false prophets of the OT were not just the pagans.  There were “court prophets”, nominally of YHWH, who made a living telling the king that his every idea came from God.
I think that the IRS rule against endorsing candidates is good for both the nation and for the church.  Churches should address the issues (which is allowed), but the endorsement of candidates is a big invitation to corruption and selling out the Word of God.

September 26, 2:35 pm | [comment link]
6. Dr. William Tighe wrote:

Not wrong; I think it absurd that my church (the Catholic Church) should not be able publicly to declare any “pro-choice” Catholic figure excoummunicated, and to say that any Catholics that should vote for such a one excommunicated themselves.  That was, after all, how Italy was saved from the Communists in 1948.

Of course, I think that all churches and denominations should be willing and able to do precisely the same thing.  In our civil polity, after all, no civil consequences follow from “excommunication” (or “banning” or “shunning”), and individuals suffer no civil ill-consequences from ignoring the strictures of their churches ior denominations, and so I see no reason why any religious organization should be prohibited from taking any political stance that they desire.

September 26, 2:37 pm | [comment link]
7. Bryan McKenzie wrote:

They can do whatever they want, but the government doesn’t have to give them a tax-exemption.  If they want the tax-exemption they should obey the rules.

September 26, 2:39 pm | [comment link]
8. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I also think it’s very destructive for a church internally to get into politics, because it becomes so divisive. Even as an elder at my church (a layman, not clergy), I’m scrupulous about not getting into politics around church.  That’s not why we’re there.  For the same reason, I don’t have any political bumper stickers on my car; I don’t want people seeing that in the church parking lot and then categorizing me for my political persuasions, not as a Christian.

September 26, 2:45 pm | [comment link]
9. Nikolaus wrote:

As Brian points out, this is a privilage voluntarily extended by the government, not a right.  Rather than deal with individual pastors, I can see the government withdrawing the privilage altogether.

September 26, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
10. Jeremy Bonner wrote:


I would give some credit to George Marshall. A sense of proportion can be a wonderful thing.

September 26, 2:47 pm | [comment link]
11. Charles wrote:

#6 - Dr. Tighe, I fully agree with you - if and only if they willingly give up their tax-exempt status.

September 26, 2:52 pm | [comment link]
12. jeff marx wrote:

Whatever the itent of the ministers/churches, the Law of Unintended Consequences is clear: “There will be some good things happen that were unforeseen and some bad things happen that were unforeseen because of this.”
I think that one obvious foreseeable thing is it will give ammunition to enemies of the church. If churches lose their tax exempt status that will be a problem. If contributions were no longer tax deductable then we will see a marked decline in offerings. If church properties were taxed we would see another budget impact. In churches like mine where a large amount of income goes to fund outreach this would be bad. I trust God, but that does not mean that I think it does not matter what we do. This is not a smart move.

September 26, 2:56 pm | [comment link]
13. JustOneVoice wrote:

Dr. William Tighe wrote
It is my understanding that the Catholic Church can
1) “declare any “pro-choice” Catholic figure excoummunicated,”

2) “say that any Catholics that should vote for such a one excommunicated themselves”

They just can’t say “any Catholics that should vote for <insert specific name here> excommunicated themselves”

I think it is the naming a specific candidate that is a problem.

September 26, 3:17 pm | [comment link]
14. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

So, Churches should not have involved themselves with the politics of slavery?  No condemnations from the pulpit?  Wouldn’t taxing the Church be infringing on the “free excercise” of religion?

September 26, 3:18 pm | [comment link]
15. Charles wrote:

#14 - Churches did of course take a stand on the issue of slavery.  And churches today take stands on issues like environmentalism, economics, moral issues (e.g. abortion and gay marriage), etc.  No one is arguing that they cannot or should not do so.

It’s the endorsement or condemnation of specific candidates that I believe should remain prohibited unless the church forfeits their tax-exempt status.  I don’t know IRS regulations well enough to know what exactly is prohibited right now.  Can someone with such knowledge help, please?

September 26, 3:21 pm | [comment link]
16. Ad Orientem wrote:

This is an excellent example of the dangers of being tied in any way to the state.  As an Orthodox Christian I am (painfully) conscious of the history and the dangers of entangling the Church with the state.  When the Church starts taking benefits from the state whether directly (money etc.) or indirectly (tax exemptions etc.) the state gets the right to attach whatever conditions they want. 

I am deeply opposed to tax exempt status for religious institutions other than perhaps those buildings or specific groups which focus on some material good for the community like hospitals, orphanages and the like.  Anything which can allow Caesar’s nose under the flap of the church tent is BAD.

With respect to Dr. Tighe’s call for the excommunication of those politician’s who vote for abortion rights, I concur.  But I also think it’s hard to take Caesar’s coin while you are making him the object of the bell, book and candle.


September 26, 3:26 pm | [comment link]
17. Larry Morse wrote:

This is so careless, so improvident, so irresponsible that there are no sufficient words. This is the Kent State UIniversity mentality challenging the troops, daring them to fire. There is no real desire here to speak the Christian words to the political world, but rather a chip-on-the-shoulder challenge whose only purpose is to dare the law to act because they want martyrdom. This is naughty adolescent stuff and they need to be grounded and their car keys taken away. Larry

September 26, 3:27 pm | [comment link]
18. vulcanhammer wrote:

#13, I think you are right, there is a distinction between, for example, “we are giving X the boot from our church because they are pro-choice” and “we are endorsing his opponent Y because he is pro-life.”

It is interesting to note that, this past summer, my own denomination circulated to its ministers an article by the head of our ministers’ retirement plan, who is an “on-call” attorney for the RNC.  He basically advised our ministers not to even try what these ministers are doing.

September 26, 3:32 pm | [comment link]
19. CatBraganca wrote:

Churches can speak openly about issues, but cannot endorse candidates. Here is a link to IRS Guidance issued in 2006 after it received many complaints during 2004 election regarding the endorsement of specific candidates.,,id=154780,00.html

September 26, 3:35 pm | [comment link]
20. Baruch wrote:

Larry, Right On, this is dare and double dare of children, they need to grow up>

September 26, 3:40 pm | [comment link]
21. Susan Russell wrote:

And then there’s the money thing. From a comment I got today via email:

Proponents of letting churches and other tax exempt organizations endorse political candidates need to say whether they also believe that the people have a right to know who is paying for candidates’ campaigns. The practical effect of letting churches endorse candidates would be to allow large sums of money to be channeled to candidates from unidentified donors from entities that are legally allowed to keep their financial supporters secret. And the donors would get a tax deduction for contributing to the campaign through a church! Do we want more under-the-table money in politics?

This isn’t about preventing churches from stating and working for their values. It’s about churches’ non-profit status conferring clear benefits to their donors—benefits that if transferred to the political realm would make the movement of money in politics even more corrupt than it is now.

September 26, 6:02 pm | [comment link]
22. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re # 21
I believe for the first time ever, I find myself in agreement with Susan Russell.  On which note I am going to take several aspirin in combination with a very stiff scotch whiskey and lie down for an hour.


September 26, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
23. montanan wrote:

I am fully in agreement w/#17 (Larry Morse) and #21 (Susan Russell) - there should be no place for a church to endorse a candidate - which is not to say churches should refrain from pointing out biblical issues and providing impartial education about candidates around those issues (as well as the issues themselves).

September 26, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
24. Chris Hathaway wrote:

Tax exemption was granted to churches, or rather, the churches were recognized as tax exempt for other reasons than that they not engage in political campaigns, for we all know they did. The present rule under which churches are required to stay silent on candidates is a later imposition, one which specifically restricts their ability to participate politically, effectively making them pay for the right to speak. Thus it is blatantly unconstitutional and should be challenged.

That being said, I also think it wrong for churches to engage too closely in politics. But that should be their decision, not the government’s.

September 27, 8:45 am | [comment link]
25. Hakkatan wrote:

One of the reasons that churches and many other non-profit organizations receive tax exemptions is that the government recognizes that they provide a real but intangible benefit that the nation needs but may not be able to do directly.  Churches, for instance, teach what is moral and immoral, and that helps the overall culture by being an encouragement for people to behave morally.

Of course, once a culture is detached from the teachings of its majority faith, there can be a real split between what the government wants taught and what the faith has always taught.  Great Britain and Canada are a lesson in this - and we are probably next.

September 27, 10:13 am | [comment link]
26. Br. Michael wrote:

I disagree with most of the above.  Churches should be tax immune.  Tax status should not depend on what churches say.

It may very well dumber thathan dirt for a church to endorse a political candidate, but it is non of the governments business.  This is a problem that is inherant in the very concept of a income tax and it’s system of tax exemptions.

September 27, 6:44 pm | [comment link]
27. Sick & Tired of Nuance wrote:

If the government can tax the Church, they can infringe on the free exercise of religion.  The power to tax is the power of control.  The government has absolutely no business regulating the speech of Churches via the coercive power of taxation.

September 27, 10:53 pm | [comment link]
28. Larry Morse wrote:

We are told to render unto Caesar…. Well, advocating political positions is to step into Caesar’s world, and we therefore are obliged to render unto this world the taxes that Christ was speaking about.
Of course the gov can regulate the church’s speech when such speech enter the world properly the governments.  Larry

September 28, 1:22 am | [comment link]
29. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re 28
I think you have this backwards.  The Churches are not being taxed.  That’s the point.  By what right do churches in a religiously neutral state claim exemption from taxation?  I say tax them and let them endorse whatever they want. 

But history is replete with the lessons of the dangers of church’s meddling in the affairs of state.

September 28, 2:49 am | [comment link]
30. Br. Michael wrote:

30, there is nothing sacrosanct about the income tax.  We got along without it for years.  There is no reason for a church to be taxed.

September 28, 5:14 pm | [comment link]
31. Ad Orientem wrote:

Re #31
Br. Michael,
We are not living in 1913.  The idea of a modern state existing without the ability to raise revenue through taxation is so absurd it does not bear serious discussion.  The question has been asked and remains unanswered.  By what right do churches claim exemption from taxation in a religiously neutral state? 


September 28, 6:23 pm | [comment link]
32. Chris Hathaway wrote:

Perhaps we should be living in a world that does not require such a massive state that heavy taxes must be levied to pay for it. Given the massive screw up that our massive government has made of things I would love to go back to a smaller government.

September 28, 8:26 pm | [comment link]
33. Ad Orientem wrote:

Define smaller government please.  Everyone favors a smaller government including me.  But when the rubber hits the road the choices become a bit more difficult.  If you want to abolish the income tax please explain what you are prepared to cut from the Federal Budget in order to cover the loss in revenue.

If we abolish the income tax we had better be prepared to revert to a 19th century style government where the Feds did little beyond deliver the mail and maintain an army smaller than today’s New York City Police Dept.

The bottom line is this.  I don’t like taxes.  No one does.  But they are the price of citizenship.  We all like and benefit from public parks, libraries, and museums.  We like having advanced law enforcement capabilities.  We like having a military that is capable of responding to more than an Indian uprising.  We like having some system of public relief for people afflicted by natural disasters.  I could go on but I think the point has been made.

Eliminate the income tax and you eliminate everything I just listed.  If that’s what you want I suspect neither candidate will make you happy.  Perhaps you should do a write in?  I suggest Grover Cleveland, unless you also want to put the country back on the Gold Standard.  Then go with William McKinley.


September 28, 9:13 pm | [comment link]
34. Irenaeus wrote:

“I think it absurd that my church (the Catholic Church) should not be able publicly to declare any “pro-choice” Catholic figure excoummunicated”—-William Tighe

William [#6]: Who says it can’t? What evidence do you have that IRS rules of policy would preclude such an action?

September 29, 2:50 am | [comment link]
35. Irenaeus wrote:

Do we have a touch of Income-Tax Fantasy Regressive Disorder (InTaFaRD) here?

InTaFaRD is the delusion that our problems would go away if only we had no income tax. 

Even without an income tax, we would still have an array of other taxes, including property taxes and sales or value-added taxes.
And we would still face the question of how to treat churches that act like political organizations.

September 29, 3:06 am | [comment link]
36. Chris Hathaway wrote:

Evere hear of the idea of a national sales tax? Given the size of our economy it should pay for most of what the income tax does.

As for cutting the size of governments, I would start with entitlements: soc sec, meicare, welfare, prescriptiuon drugs, all this is a huge waste and is a corruption of our democracy. Plus, whenever govenrment gets involved in part of the economy it causes the prices to skyrocket. Look at health costs and education.

September 30, 12:10 am | [comment link]
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