1,000 pastors intend to get political on Sunday, October 8. They will rise to their feet to be a part of Pulpit Free Sunday, an event in which they will make political sermons and endorse specific candidates. They want to call attention to the fact churches, as 501 C(3) charities, are prohibited from engaging in direct political action and prohibited from endorsing candidates. They are daring the I.R.S. to take away their tax-exempt status. The I.R.S. should grant them their wish.
The first amendment has clear exceptions. You can't yell fire in a crowded theater...if you join the military you lose some of your first amendment rights...the same in prison...public schools can't use the first amendment to proselytize. Every pastor and church can choose not to be a non-profit charity. They can choose to pay all the appropriate taxes and, with that choice, they can say anything they wish from the pulpit and in their Sunday bulletins. The first amendment need not be an issue. These regressive church leaders want to have their cake and eat it too. They want all the benefits of tax-exempt status, without having to conform to the restrictions which accepting the benefits requires.
When a church is tax-exempt, it is freed from having to pay property taxes on their physical plant. For just the Catholic Church alone in this nation, it results in millions of dollars in lost revenue. When someone puts a dollar in the collection basket, it is tax deductible. In fact, there are numerous ways people can give property, stock, inheritance and other monies to a church and all of it is tax deductible. All this tax revenue is lost to the city, county, state or federal government. All of this revenue has to be made up for by other Americans who are not members of the church or even believers of any kind. American taxpayers are asked to subsidize these religious institutions even if they are atheists. Of greater concern, these same taxpayers could find themselves subsidizing churches whose political views are completely antithetical to their own. These pastors want to get political without any accountability to the taxpayers who are supporting them to the tune of tens of millions of dollars each year.
Within a particular church, this issue of accountability further strains the ties between us. If you contribute a dollar to a church, it is theirs to use as they see fit. In the Roman Catholic Church in America, once you contribute, all that money belongs to the bishop. He can steal it, lose it, spend it any way he sees fit, including child support for children he conceives, and there is nothing you can do about it. The Catholic bishops of California contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Proposition 8, outlawing same sex marriage (the Mormon Church did as well). This, despite polls showing a majority of Catholics are in favor of such marriages. Most churches are not monoliths of political opinion. There are deep differences and the political restrictions on their activity is designed to prevent contributions from being used to support politics to which many members of the congregation may have objections.
The restrictions on a 501 C (3) entity are not specific to churches. They apply to all non-profit organizations. The fact they are subsidized by the general public, a public which may vehemently disagree with a particular political stance, means they give up the right to be politically active in order to gain the benefits of not paying taxes.
If church leaders are chaffing under the current situation, the solution is simple. Rescind the non-profit status of your church. Give up the tax benefits you enjoy now and you will be free to say and do whatever you wish. If this truly is a constitutional issue, it's in your hands to solve it. The question I have is how many of these patriotic church folk, who so desperately want to participate in the public, political debate, do you think will give up their tax-exempt status?
Free Pulpit Sunday is an exercise in hypocrisy. These churches want to have political influence without giving up any of the benefits of being tax-exempt. They want to continue to be subsidized out of the general fund, by people who vociferously disagree with them, and yet not abide by the regulations. They are losing the war on a variety of moral issues from same-sex marriage to contraception to abortion, and they want to fight back. However, they are not committed enough, zealous enough, divinely inspired enough to fight these battles on their own. They want you and me to fund them and keep them afloat. It is duplicitous and has nothing to do with the first or any other amendment. It is a naked power grab and they figure the I.R.S., and Obama in an election year, won't dare do anything about it.
If these churches insert themselves into the political fray, the I.R.S. should immediately suspend their tax-exempt status. They should pay property taxes and donations no longer would be tax deductible. Then we can see how sincere they are. I suspect these pseudo-pharisees will squeal like stuck pigs and demand the freedom to politicize their sanctuaries while hiding under the umbrella of a tax code they have no respect for.
Hmmmmm, I wonder what Jesus would advise?