An LA Times Editorial that has received much attention—The pulpit should be free of politics

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Churches and other nonprofits long have been forbidden from endorsing political candidates. But erratic enforcement of the law has emboldened supporters of legislation in Congress that would end the restriction. Far from needing to be repealed, the ban on politics in the pulpit ought to be enforced more aggressively.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) would repeal a 1954 amendment to the tax code sponsored by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. The amendment says that churches and other so-called 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations may not "participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

Jones' legislation seeks to restore the "1st Amendment rights" of churches, but that's misleading. Churches may have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates, but there is no constitutional right to a tax exemption. Congress is free to condition such exemptions — which can be worth millions of dollars — on an agreement by churches and charities to refrain from partisan political activity. And it's the IRS' responsibility to enforce compliance....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry* Culture-WatchLaw & Legal IssuesChurch/State MattersReligion & Culture* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

Posted September 15, 2013 at 7:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Br. Michael wrote:

If I am not mistaken Churches have always been considered tax immune otherwise a lot of tax legislation would be unconstitutional.  The exemptions were put in to make the point clear and to render otherwise un constitutional legislation constitutional.

That being the case it is unconstitutional of limit a Church’s speech through the tax code.

September 15, 12:10 pm | [comment link]
2. Katherine wrote:

Given that certain churches routinely ignore this law and are not sanctioned, it would be perhaps more even-handed to permit sermons which advocate candidates by name for all churches regardless of their viewpoint.

September 15, 7:09 pm | [comment link]
3. Jim the Puritan wrote:

Churches may have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates, but there is no constitutional right to a tax exemption.

Simply not true.  Churches were considered constitutionally exempt from taxation under the First Amendment prior to the enactment of the Internal Revenue Code, because of the potential entanglement of church and state.  (An early Supreme Court case said that the power of the government to tax is equivalent to the power of the government to control.)

The Internal Revenue Code reflects this pre-existing constitutional limitation—it did not create a new tax exemption in favor of churches but recognizes the exemption that was always there.  This is why, unlike all other 501(c)(3) organizations, churches do not apply for tax-exempt status, they are automatically entitled to it.  Unlike other tax exempts, they are also exempt from having to file Form 990s.

This is also why the “Johnson Amendment” is on shaky ground, and why the IRS does not want to take on the issue in court.  But the Left, who at the same time wants to force churches from the public square, is spreading another Big Lie that churches can with the other hand constitutionally be taxed.  Sadly, given the politicized nature of our justice system in the present age, they could judicially rewrite the constitution to say that.

September 15, 9:37 pm | [comment link]
4. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I would note another corollary developing in my state and others, that churches should not be entitled to a tax exemption if they are “homophobic” or refuse to do same-sex marriages.

September 15, 9:48 pm | [comment link]
5. Uh Clint wrote:

Jim the Puritan,

I assume that this includes all of the Mosques in your area, and that the authorities will be contacting them to advise them of the error of their ways.

After all, although this is often viewed as strictly a “traditional/evangelical Christian” issue, it is also relevant to Islam (all varieties), Orthodox Judaism, Eastern [Orthodox] Catholicism, the Mormons, .................

September 15, 11:45 pm | [comment link]
6. Jim the Puritan wrote:

#5—You are correct, but really here they are simply going after (1) the Catholics, and (2) the “Evangelicals,” aka, the “Religious Right” (that is, what most mainline Protestant churches used to be like before they were destroyed by the liberals starting in the Fifties and Sixties).

September 15, 11:49 pm | [comment link]
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