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Ron Paul '08: So sayeth the Lord.
September 9, 2008 1:06 PM   Subscribe

The Alliance Defense Fund is organizing Pulpit Freedom Sunday, urging Pastors to explicitly endorse Presidential candidates in violation of IRS rules governing the non-profit status of religious organizations.
posted by god hates math (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's just like Pastors to want to have their cake and force it down the throats of their followers, too.
posted by Damn That Television at 1:11 PM on September 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


Backed by three former top IRS officials, the group also wants the IRS to determine whether the nonprofit ADF is risking its own tax-exempt status by organizing an "inappropriate, unethical and illegal" series of political endorsements.

Let's hope the resistance is successful.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:12 PM on September 9, 2008


As a church-goer, I say no thank you. Keep politics out of the church, and the church out of politics.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:15 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think pastors endorsements should be allowed without risking the tax-advantaged status of the church.

It's not like the rules are stopping anything by preventing the pastors from mentioning names or parties, and it just gives the Christians the welcome chance to feel persecuted.
posted by troy at 1:19 PM on September 9, 2008


As a non-church-goer, I have no problem with this, as long as the churches consequently lose their tax haven status.
posted by odinsdream at 1:19 PM on September 9, 2008 [22 favorites]


I don't think religion should enjoy tax exemption anyway. Other escapes from reality are taxed quite heavily or outright banned.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:37 PM on September 9, 2008 [25 favorites]


I don't think this is a good idea. I am not fond of having local politicians trotting in to wave at the faithful, and I think that the most we should be told from the pulpit is that it is our duty as citizens and as Christians to determine for ourselves where our vote should go-and I think issues should be okay to mention as long as we are relating them to what the Bible says about them.

Having said that there are a ton of churchgoers who buttonhole my husband every single election season to ask him who they should vote for with "our" values. But my husband is not a pastor, only a congregant, so I don't think that should be an issue.
posted by konolia at 1:42 PM on September 9, 2008


I've sat through two political speeches during church services. The first advocated voting against Reagan (and for Carter), then four years later (a different church, a different city) advocated voting for Reagan. I blame my youth and timidity for not walking out on the first one. I did walk out on the second one. The separation of church and state is an illusion and has little to do with what actually goes on in churches.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:42 PM on September 9, 2008


Oh they want to keep the tax advantage AND be able to tell the rest of us how to live, who to screw, how to screw, what to like, dislike, hate, love .....you name it.

And the next step is changing the laws to make their silly ideas apply with the cops to make it so.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:43 PM on September 9, 2008


I'm curious about the constitutional status of those rules as applied to churches. There doesn't seem to be a winning free-speech case (for reasons I don't really understand). But there's an interesting analogy to the (messy) church-property cases, where courts have sometimes disavowed intervention into religious teachings, even by the operation of neutral rules.
posted by grobstein at 1:46 PM on September 9, 2008


. . . tell the rest of us how to live, who to screw, how to screw, what to like, dislike, hate, love .....you name it.

You've just summed up Corporate Advertising (and those bastards pay taxes).
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


The separation of church and state is an illusion and has little to do with what actually goes on in churches.

How so? You continue to be free to leave a church that bothers you and join another of a different sect, no?
posted by mkb at 1:56 PM on September 9, 2008


mkb: I am saying in practice it is an illusion. Churches regularly tell you how to vote in the US. Furthermore, I worked for a faith-based charity organization (Catholic Charities). Over half of our funding was governmental. I'm not saying this is how it should be, just what goes on.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 2:06 PM on September 9, 2008


Well, yes, but governmental funding of religious organizations is pretty different from disallowing political endorsements.
posted by mkb at 2:09 PM on September 9, 2008


As a church-goer, I say no thank you. Keep politics out of the church, and the church out of politics.

I have never been in a church that did not also practice some sort of politics. There was a sermon two weeks ago about how Nancy Pelosi was wrong about the Church's teachings on abortion. Then there was a sermon four weeks ago about how there is a Christian obligation to ensure that famililes who are facing foreclosure do not go homeless. Neither of these sermons mentioned John McCain or Barack Obama by name (though they did call out Speaker Pelosi), but they were plainly political.

Should a priest/preacher/lama/whatever be prohibited from giving the two sermons I just described? That would seem to be a real free speech and free exercise issue -- and under fairly recent Supreme Court precedent, the two rights reinforce each other.

On the other hand, if the priest/preacher/lama/whatever is not prohibited from giving the two sermons I described, then what's the point of an outright ban on political positions? Is the point that churches can walk right up to the line of endorsing each of a candidate's views and character traits, but they should lose their tax-exempt status if they mention a name?

I guess that's how it is for all tax-exempt 501(c)s today -- which includes a slew of organizations that you would hardly consider apolitical -- but is the IRS really going to try to enforce this against a church? Against my Church? In an election year?
posted by Slap Factory at 2:11 PM on September 9, 2008


Well, if these kinds of churches' preferred candidates have taught them anything, it's that the fact that something is illegal is no reason not to do it.

There doesn't seem to be a winning free-speech case (for reasons I don't really understand).

They aren't restricting churches' free speech, they're restricting their access to a special tax status, which is not a constitutional right. Same restrictions apply to all non-profits, you can't campaign for specific candidates.

In conclusion, ugh, and then five minutes later I have to listen to one of these mealy-mouthed motherfuckers intone some pious bullshit about the "rule of law." How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever?
posted by nanojath at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2008


Seriously though, it's worth amplifying that the goal of this organization and its cat's paw churches is to incite a prosecution by the IRS that it can try to take to the Supreme Court for a constitutional challenge of the law.
posted by nanojath at 2:24 PM on September 9, 2008


> As a non-church-goer, I have no problem with this, as long as the churches consequently lose their tax haven status.

You might usefully give a look-in to the law of unintended consequences. I easily foresee some of the megachurches hiring big-gun K Street lobbyists to argue that if being taxed by the state doesn't violate the First Amendment, then receiving tax exemptions and subsidies and all the array of government support programs now available to, e. g., industrial-class farmers, corporations, and so on doesn't violate the First either. The end of that road, if we reached it, is seeing the First interpreted down to the point where it would forbid nothing but a law bluntly stating that sect X is now officially the U.S. Established Religion. Can't do that, but any other form of government support for religion is fine. I'm just sure you would consider that an unintended consequence.

In the ordinary course of business I am very much opposed to churches mixing in politics, to protect not the state but the church. When the sacred is mixed with the secular, the sacred loses--there's a Graham's Law for spirituality just as much as there is for money. The history of Rome after Constantine was pretty nasty for the Church considered as a refuge for love. I don't much want to be ruled by Renaissance Popes, who were princes of the Church and bloody-handed secular princes at the same time. I would rather not go through another Thirty Years War. On the other hand--business isn't always ordinary and there is always an OTOH--I'm sure the Pope, the Catholic Church, and all the Protestant churches of Europe ought to have spoken out against the rise of the Nazis long before most of them did. That would certainly count as mixing in politics, and it's an opinion that has already been stated many times on this site.
posted by jfuller at 2:46 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


odinsdream writes "As a non-church-goer, I have no problem with this, as long as the churches consequently lose their tax haven status."

this
posted by mullingitover at 2:46 PM on September 9, 2008


Interestingly, some former honchos from the IRS think that the ADF lawyers should lose their ability to practice law for coordinating this mass violation of federal tax law.

I hope the IRS and the state bar associations agree.
posted by gurple at 2:47 PM on September 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


They aren't restricting churches' free speech, they're restricting their access to a special tax status, which is not a constitutional right.

Exactly.

"Your JHonor, we have a first amendment right to free speech."

"Well, you did, until you *voluntarily* waived it in exchange for tax abatement."

That's the key. Want to be politically active? Drop the 501(c)3 status, and have at.
posted by eriko at 2:58 PM on September 9, 2008


BTW, the power of the IRS to revoke this status without Congressional Approval is already established, see Bob Jones University vs. United States.
posted by eriko at 3:11 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe if they lose their tax exempt status we will get pastors and priests telling us during services how unfair the tax code is. I personally think that would be great. Maybe we can reduce the tax burden on everyone this way!
posted by CCK at 3:19 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I easily foresee some of the megachurches hiring big-gun K Street lobbyists to argue that if being taxed by the state doesn't violate the First Amendment, then receiving tax exemptions and subsidies and all the array of government support programs now available to, e. g., industrial-class farmers, corporations, and so on doesn't violate the First either. The end of that road, if we reached it, is seeing the First interpreted down to the point where it would forbid nothing but a law bluntly stating that sect X is now officially the U.S. Established Religion. Can't do that, but any other form of government support for religion is fine. I'm just sure you would consider that an unintended consequence.

Am I just insufficiently intelligent, or does this make no sense? I've worked on it, honest, but I can't make heads or tails of the argument given here. The best I can do is:

1) K-street lobbyist argue taxing doesn't violate A1 (isn't that already precedent?)
2) Government support is therefore not in violation of A1 (see above)
3) Terrible things will happen (???)

Any help here?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:23 PM on September 9, 2008


This is awesome. Psycho-right-wing megachurches are publicly surrendering their tax-exempt status and being taxed for the businesses that they are? Give me a moment to compose a suitably celebratory jig.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:28 PM on September 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's the key. Want to be politically active? Drop the 501(c)3 status, and have at.
It's also the same argument in reverse: the golden chains. Any given entity, be it person, church, corporation, charity, or government raises its expenditure to fall slightly short of (smart) or somewhat exceed (dumb, but more common) its income. The only exceptions are those who reject, as much as possible, engagement in the monetary sphere.

There's an argument that this disengagement is indeed what churches should do, especially Christian churches, who are arguably ecclesiastically instructed (in Mark 6, Matthew 10, and Luke 9) to do so. However, in almost all nations worldwide, even Scandinavian nations, it is a practical fact that churches do charity work. The less willing the government is to provide social welfare money and services, the more the churches take up the slack. To some extent, this is a vicious cycle: the more the churches provide, the more a cash-strapped government--subject to the same principle of raising its expenditure near or past its income--retreats from providing.

Thus a church is put into a position of brinkmanship against an uncharitable government (and almost all governments, from this point of view, are uncharitable): the government may offer higher funding or lower taxes, which amounts to the same thing, but the money comes with conditions. If those conditions are unacceptable, the church may refuse it; but as with an unpleasant change in, say, one's personal job, it's not easy to blithely refuse guaranteed money and bravely seek it elsewhere. When that refusal comes at the cost of closing the soup kitchen, for example, the ethical quandary is huge.

Far better not to engage in it at all, and let the government provide the soup kitchens; but (cynically) there is evangelism to be done in soup kitchens; and (uncynically) the poor are going hungry while you lobby. And many politicians are eager to "help". There are huge votes in being seen to be pious, publicly endorsing churches, and having church leaders make stump speeches from the pulpit (the rise of the Reagan Republicans is strong testament to that). It's neither good nor bad inherently, it's just how it works. Many churches have massive axes to grind, and politicians are eager to spin the grinding wheel; many churches have significant and effective social welfare work to do, and politicians are eager to attach themselves to this for cynical and uncynical reasons. And, speaking of Reagan, it of course goes back the other way.

It's corruption, of course. The politician is supposed to do what is best for the people; the church, what is best in the eyes of its God. Monetary and political maneuvering is a distraction from these duties. Like most forms of corruption in the USA, it's reached an exceptional height under Bush, with all this "faith-based" stuff; I need not list it. Bush has spread the network of golden chains wide, and especially over those churches who have politically aligned themselves (or started off aligned) with his repulsive ideological goals. They have turned and knelt before him, or else no money.

I like this initiative. I object to tax exemptions for churches and "churches", and instead would vastly prefer that everyone, you, me, church and corporation, got tax deductions for well-defined charitable work where a clearly-definable benefit (like food, shelter, secular education, transport to-from employment, etc) is provided to a clearly-definable person or class of persons. But I object more, if tax exemptions are to be granted, to the shackling of them to freedom of speech.

I admire the way it's being done, too. This is what Thoreau, Gandhi and King meant by civil disobedience. Judicial martyrdom, breaking the law in order to trigger a public prosecution against you, in full acceptance of the high likelihood of your punishment for it, is the way to get a law reviewed by the courts. It's what the judicial hierarchy is set up to do. If you want to get a law reviewed by politicians, well, in a postmodern democracy, rational argument seems to largely have gone by-the-by, being dismissed in favor of economic benefit. You pretty much have to suck political dick in one form or another; or else make them afraid of you. The courts are orders of magnitude less corrupt: rational argument may or may not prevail, but the court is a forum in which it has a chance of prevailing.

Very good luck to them.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:55 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't think religion should enjoy tax exemption anyway.

The existence of this has always seemed to me (as a non-US constitutional lawyer) rather like a violation of the First Amendment, anyway. Isn't the government (through the IRS) making decisions about who qualifies as a legitimate religion, to gain substantial financial benefits, an example of the US government making decisions in favour of, or against, some religions?
posted by rodgerd at 4:14 PM on September 9, 2008


rodgerd, here is an extremely good article on Walz v. Tax Commission, a pivotal case on the subject.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:33 PM on September 9, 2008


If we all stake out a church on Sunday (barring a Large Hadron Collider Mishap), I think we can take out all of them at once. Also, if Dobson doesn't do it, he is officially a coward.
posted by parmanparman at 6:05 PM on September 9, 2008


Religions shouldn't get tax exemptions. Nor should they get government funding for anything. Then we don't have to worry about politics in the pulpit or churches (it is always the Christians, somehow) forcing religion on people who are court-ordered to treatment.

Charity starts with pulling your own weight.
posted by QIbHom at 6:14 PM on September 9, 2008


Wait, separation of church and state implies no church activity that in any way reflects on the state?

This is like saying since you can't have a crucifix on your public school room wall, you can't have a U.S. flag in a church. I mean, it would be weird, but fill your boots.

I am anti-church tax exemption but pro church saying any damn thing they please, minus reasonably defined hate speech.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:58 PM on September 9, 2008


Called it.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:30 PM on September 9, 2008


dances_with_sneetches: "The separation of church and state is an illusion and has little to do with what actually goes on in churches."

Exactly. And the reason for that statement's accuracy is because the church is resentful and envious of the power of the state and wants that power for itself.
posted by mystyk at 10:53 PM on September 9, 2008


aeschenkarnos: "Judicial martyrdom, breaking the law in order to trigger a public prosecution against you, in full acceptance of the high likelihood of your punishment for it, is the way to get a law reviewed by the courts."

This is a false analogy.

Churches are not breaking the law by being partisan; they never were. They are losing a priveleged status. It is not a legal punishment that the churches will be prosecuted for, but a release of entitlement to a benefit. The only judgement that can be made is for back-taxes, and even that can only extend so far as the oldest provable occasion of distinctly partisan behavior.

My personal opinion is that they don't deserve the special status - the undeserved privelege - of tax exemption regardless of politics, but that is not what the law says. Denying a benefit is not the same as denying a right, and cannot be challenged the same way in the courts.
posted by mystyk at 11:58 PM on September 9, 2008


a release of entitlement to a benefit.
We all know that there is a difference between removal of a benefit and imposition of a punishment, mystyk. The point is that the law as written grants a status X to those who refrain from action N; those who do N, are given a status worse than X. The difference is semantic, and is only done for the purpose of reframing: do you expect people to say "Oh, it's removal of a benefit? Well, that's alright then."

"We're not firing you, we're releasing your entitlement to work here."
"You're not banned, your entitlement to post to the forum has been withdrawn."
"I'm not breaking up with you, you're losing the privileged status of being my girlfriend."
"I'm not raising your rent, I'm removing your entitlement to pay a lower rate."
See how silly (and frankly, weasel-spoken) that all is?

Firstly, taking an action that leads to loss of a benefit under the law, with the purpose in mind of having your loss of benefit occur publicly, after due process, and challenging it, is just as much an act of judicial martyrdom as committing a crime in order to be prosecuted for it. The same would apply, say, to deliberately committing a tort which incurs civil liability (for example, producing and selling a T-shirt depicting the mouse Steamboat Willie for the purpose of provoking a copyright lawsuit).

Secondly, to my understanding the same review process would occur: an adversarial court would decide the interpretation of the law (or regulation) in question, the law's constitutionality would be examined, appeals to a higher court would be allowed if either party disputed the outcome, and perhaps the US Supreme Court would decide. This is one case in which it's hard to tell what political interference would be brought to bear, too. Were it 2005 or 2006, I think it's safe to predict that the IRS would be directed not to appeal against an "adverse" ruling that strikes out the regulation; but even if a salient case occurred tomorrow, it wouldn't reach the Supreme Court 'til, oh, maybe late 2009 or so at the earliest. And whichever way it tips, the USSC might refuse to hear the case; in recent years the USSC's granting of certiorari or not has seemed a little capricious, to those with particular axes to grind.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:15 AM on September 10, 2008


aeschenkarnos: "The difference is semantic, and is only done for the purpose of reframing..."

The difference is more than semantic. It is the difference between a right and a privelege. When you break a law, you are explicitly challenging whether you have the right to do whatever action was against the law. To try an example: Rosa Parks was not fighting for her privelege to sit at the front of the bus, but for her right, since it was explicitly denied her by law. It is a challenge to the morality/constitutionality of the prohibition. If the bus was like the airlines and had a first-class section that you must do something to gain entrance, such as pay a fee, then it becomes a privelege which comes at an explicit cost to the benefactor. It is the difference between the carrot and the stick: both are motivators, but they work by separate means.

If you've ever worked with access controls on computer systems, you may recall seeing two categories of access labeled "deny" and "allow." Have you ever wondered why those are separated? One addresses rights, the other priveleges, and rights generally supercede priveleges. Please stop trying to pretend they are equivalent.

aeschenkarnos:
"We're not firing you, we're releasing your entitlement to work here."
"You're not banned, your entitlement to post to the forum has been withdrawn."
"I'm not breaking up with you, you're losing the privileged status of being my girlfriend."
"I'm not raising your rent, I'm removing your entitlement to pay a lower rate."
See how silly (and frankly, weasel-spoken) that all is?


This is just stupid. You're trying to dance around the word "privelege" with shifting language, but at the fundamental level (the definition of those actions) they are all priveleges, not rights! Those are just tasteless ways to rephrase the comments.

Humorously, the first and last item in your examples are issues that often have laws made to address exactly those points. Termination laws prohibit firing without due cause, taking that aspect of the employee's privelege out of consideration by prohibiting the employer from what would otherwise be their right to fire indiscriminately. Tenant price-fixing laws prevent the landlord from asserting a right to raise prices and from claiming it is the tenant's privelege to be living there at that cost.

aeschenkarnos: "[T]o my understanding the same review process would occur..."

Similar, yes. Exact, no. I won't quibble on that, however. Even on those points where the process would be identical, the standards by which they are judged are different, and that largely removes the legitimacy of claiming "judicial martyrdom." These churches are not being prosecuted for their political partisanship, nor have they been or will they be. This isn't a case of tax evasion (which is a crime), but of status change (which isn't). Legally avoiding taxation is a privelege, not a right, and can be revoked under the conditions by which it was initially granted.

The irony is that if it really went to court, a stronger legal case exists to suggest that no entity should be tax-exempt than that entity X should be so without condition while Y and Z remain taxed. Imagine how happy all the tax-exempt churches who continue to follow tax law would be if that ruling came down.
posted by mystyk at 4:26 AM on September 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


What you are saying is strictly true, I'll give you that, but you are ignoring the wider implications. A universally-held 'privilege', over time, becomes equivalent to a right; most, if not all, of the 'rights' held by members of English-descended societies were once considered mere privileges, and were not universal. Since all 'legitimate' churches in the USA are given tax exemption as a matter of course, I expect the overwhelming proportion of people, whether churchgoers or not, except perhaps those of a particularly pedantic turn of mind, would, if asked "do churches in the USA have the right to tax exemption?" reply "yes".

In your critique of my examples above, you missed the point I'm trying to make, which is that yes, all of these are privileges, and yes, the dancing around and reframing is stupid. I agree with that. I just don't see much difference in effect between what you're doing, and the examples I gave.

The irony is that if it really went to court, a stronger legal case exists to suggest that no entity should be tax-exempt than that entity X should be so without condition while Y and Z remain taxed. Imagine how happy all the tax-exempt churches who continue to follow tax law would be if that ruling came down.
Agreed. That'd be an ideal outcome, IMO.

But if the USSC decides that churches are to retain tax exemption regardless of the political statements made by church leaders, they will have made it clear that, even if it remains technically a "privilege", the tax exemption, having no means of revocation other than ceasing to be a legitimate church, will become even more of a "right" in people's minds.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:16 AM on September 11, 2008


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