May 21, 2002 6:39 AM   Subscribe

HR-2357. "The U.S.A. prides itself as being one of the most pluralistic societies on earth, with a stunning variety of houses of worship in many communities. But the right to engage in civic activities, and especially to engage in political speech, is severely curtailed among many faith groups because of the perception that the house of worship will lose its charitable status if 'politics' is discussed." That may be about to change...
posted by aaronshaf (20 comments total)
It's about time...

--Changing IRC Section 501(c)(3) to allow churches and other Houses of Worship, but no other Section 501(c)(3) organizations, to engage in an "insubstantial" amount of political speech activity, similar to the current restriction allowing all Section 501(c)(3) organizations to engage in an "insubstantial" amount of lobbying activity...

The "insubstantiality" test, as opposed to the "safe harbor" expenditure limits in Section 501(h) for direct lobbying, is the best test to establish since churches are precluded from making a "safe harbor" election under Section 501(h)(5).

Could anyone define those terms?
posted by aaronshaf at 6:46 AM on May 21, 2002

HR 2357 hasn't seen any action since it was introduced almost a year ago. I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:52 AM on May 21, 2002

I wonder why Worldnetdaily just now posted commentary?
posted by aaronshaf at 6:57 AM on May 21, 2002

It's not dormant. Talk in congress is alive and well.
posted by aaronshaf at 7:00 AM on May 21, 2002

Welp, just goes to show nothing's ever really dead (until the end of the current Congress, at least)...good call, aaronshaf.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:30 AM on May 21, 2002

And as a bonus, here's the witness list and testimony for the May 14, 2002, hearing.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:37 AM on May 21, 2002

I think that any kind of a ban on political speech is a bad idea ... which is why I think it's pretty damn cynical that HR 2357 removes the ban on political speech for churches but leaves it in place for every other non profit organization under section 501(c).

If the sponsors of this bill believed what they were saying, they'd be removing the ban everywhere and not just for churches - and thus (until I hear otherwise), I see this just as a ploy to increase the power of the religious right.

And for that matter, I don't believe that churches should be tax exempt anyway.
posted by Chanther at 7:43 AM on May 21, 2002

The other side of the story.
posted by Fenriss at 7:43 AM on May 21, 2002

Of course, members of any denomination have alll of their first amendment rights of free speech. But the tax free organizations do not have the right to propound a position and thus unduly influence its members to think that the organizations' opinion somehow represents God's (or whatever diety their worship) position.

Many large religious groups are in the unusual postion of having a membership that is told not to question and to follow the direction of the clergy as a matter of faith. If the clergy espouse a political opinion along with a doctrinal interpretation of religous texts, the line between the two would be lost. That condition of unquestioning adherence is anti-thetical to the founding principles of the US where an informed and questioning electorate was considered crucial to the independent state (thus free public education to ensure the masses were aware and informed.)

Religions should stick to their task of tending souls and stay out of the government. I think we're seeing what an abyssmal failure that is in Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Pakistan, Israel, etc.
posted by Red58 at 7:46 AM on May 21, 2002

Linking a group's right to political advocacy with its willingness to pay taxes seems fine to me. Religious groups already have enough power in the U.S. You want to be politically active? Lose your tax-exempt status.
posted by mediareport at 7:46 AM on May 21, 2002

Oh, and be sure to check the testimony of Brenda Girton-Mitchell of the National Council of the Churches: "I come to say that while HR 2357 and HR 2931 are purported to protect the political speech of churches, they are in fact unnecessary, they are unwise, and they are unwanted by the member denominations of the National Council of Churches and by many other faith groups."

posted by mediareport at 7:49 AM on May 21, 2002

Or let them be political, but tax churches. If they want to claim tax-free charity status, make them separate the charity part of their business from their real business, which is a social club for like-minded believers. In the US, the Catholic church brings in $13 billion a year. What percentage of that goes into building and maintaining the elaborate clubhouses and paying a salary to the staff? What percentage into feeding the poor and other activities you would consider genuinely charitable and not aimed at boosting church membership and benefitting church members?
posted by pracowity at 8:47 AM on May 21, 2002

After reading Dr. Kennedy's article, I found myself in need of a palate cleanser. What could be more refreshing than counter-arguments from Thomas Jefferson himself?
posted by gimonca at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2002

a stunning variety of houses of worship in many communities


A stunning variety of Abrahamic variants is more like it.
The closest I've seen to "variety" in Seattle is one or two Bhuddist monasteries tucked away amongst a bajillion Christian churches, a few synagogues, and one or two mosques.

The rest of us have to either go Unitarian to be accepted, or remain hidden completley.
posted by Dillenger69 at 9:26 AM on May 21, 2002

It's about time...

Explain aaronshaf, what has prevented you all this time to be both political and religious.
posted by crasspastor at 10:06 AM on May 21, 2002

I can't wait to see some of the highly democratic policy making to come from this development, considering how resonspible preachers with power have proven to be in the past.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:19 AM on May 21, 2002

Religions should stick to their task of tending souls and stay out of the government. I think we're seeing what an abyssmal failure that is in Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Pakistan, Israel, etc.

all right, i'll bite. why not?

disclaimer: i don't, by writing this opinion, necessarily advocate the specific policies of the people in question or privileged tax status for faith organizations.

religions sometimes advocate policies because government affects the souls they are tending. the argument above is analogous to saying 'since some free speech goes bad, we ought not have it.'
posted by Sean Meade at 10:44 AM on May 21, 2002

Well, many reasons. The examples I provided are the most obvious to me. Combining religion with politics leads to the kind of chaos and oppression we see in the countries I listed.

Read V.S. Naipul's Amoung the Believers for some specifics on Iran, Pakistan and Indonesia. And Thomas Freidman's From Beirut to Jerusalem for Israel and Lebanon.

One example from Naipul's book describes Islam's rejection of charging interest on loans. That ban is a huge problem for a country's banking, international monetary transactions, etc. Consequently, Islamic countries are recognized, even by many of their own leaders, as lagging the world in technology, economic stabilty, and growth. Of course, I am way over simplifing here because of the limited space available.

Israel is having similar internal problems with some Jews who feel that the West Bank and Gaza MUST be part of Israel despite the presence of those pesky Palestinians who insist on being there. It's Biblical therefore it must be and they have the political clout to keep the alive. Other Israelis are savvy enough to realize that a compromise must be reached and the Palestinians need to have a place to live too. And since Palestinians are largely Islamic not Jewish, they don't want to have to follow any Jewish laws that maybe written as part of Israeli law (Sabbath business, dress. Likewise, non-Islamic people don't want to follow Islamic religous laws if they're not Islamic).

And I don't mean to diminsh or ignore all other aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian problem (Palestinian terrorism and hatred of Jews, etc). Just that a state run by a religion is, in every example I can identify, an oppressive failure.
posted by Red58 at 11:29 AM on May 21, 2002

actually, the 'why not?' was in reference to commenting. sorry for the confusion.

care to respond to my analogy?
posted by Sean Meade at 12:34 PM on May 21, 2002

aaronshaf: in answer to your questions, the normal non-profit test is no substantial part of the activities of which is ... propaganda, or ... attempting to influence legislation ... and which does not participate in ... (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign [for or against a] candidate for public office. {elisions and insertions mine}, from 501(c)3 itself. Under 501(h)(1), exemption from taxation ... shall be denied because a substantial part of the activities ... consists of [lobbying], but only if such organization normally ... makes lobbying [or grass roots] expenditures in excess of the lobbying [or grass roots] ceiling amount for such organization for each taxable year.

Under 501(h)(4), organization types (e.g. schools, hospitals, charities) given this so-called 'safe harbor' (expenditure limit) test are listed; in 501(h)(5) organizations denied the expenditure test are listed, first of all churches. Which is to say that no amount of expenditures is permissible, the test supporters find intolerable. The argument being made is to move churches out of the second group, and either as part of the first group, or to a wholly new third group.

Or something like that; I need a nap, I'm in a post-burger wooze.
posted by dhartung at 2:49 PM on May 21, 2002

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