The Internal Revenue Service settled a lawsuit brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. The 2012 lawsuit was settled after the IRS agreed to monitor what is said in houses of worship, something that is a clear violation of the First Amendment, since no law can be written by Congress to this effect. Therefore, the “unconstitutional” IRS has gone way beyond what the federal Constitution allows.
The Wisconsin group brought the lawsuit because it said the IRS was ignoring complaints about churches violating their tax-exempt statuses. Specifically, FFRF said many churches promote political issues, legislation, and/or candidates from the pulpit in violation of the 1954 Johnson Amendment, which requires that non-profits not endorse candidates.
According to FFRF, the IRS has not followed a 2009 ruling requiring it to hire someone to keep an eye on church politicking. The IRS says it hasn’t ignored the ruling, but merely failed to follow it.
The government has put a moratorium on the IRS’ investigations of tax-exempt organizations after the scandal that broke in 2013 over its targeting of pro-life, pro-family, and Tea Party groups. FFRF says that even though the IRS will not enforce the agreement because of the moratorium, they can still bring the lawsuit again if needed after the moratorium is lifted.
“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a press release.
“Of course, we have the complication of a moratorium currently in place on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities, church or otherwise, due to the congressional probe of the IRS,” she added. “FFRF could refile the suit if anti-electioneering provisions are not enforced in the future against rogue political churches.”
The press release went on to state:
The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations. While the IRS retains “prosecutorial” discretion with regard to any individual case, the IRS no longer has a blanket policy or practice of non-enforcement of political activity restrictions as to churches.
In addition to FFRF’s lawsuit, IRS enforcement procedures with respect to political activity by tax-exempt organizations have been the subject of intense scrutiny by Congress. As a result, the IRS is reviewing and implementing safeguards to ensure evenhanded enforcement across the board with respect to all tax-exempt organizations.
Until that process is completed, the IRS has suspended all examinations of tax-exempt organizations for alleged political activities. The current suspension, however, is not limited to church tax inquiries.
If you recall there was an outcry for “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” back in 2012, as the left didn’t mind being political in Black Churches to advance its agenda, but God forbid that Churches that are truly biblical in their worldview speak out against the evils of political parties and issues of the day, something that would have been foreign to our forefathers.
According to FFRF, “Pulpit Freedom Sunday … has become an annual occasion for churches to violate the law with impunity. The IRS, meanwhile, admittedly was not enforcing the restrictions against churches.”
Senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom Erik Stanley said, “The IRS has no business censoring what a pastor preaches from the pulpit.”
ADF is seeking to “bring the era of IRS censorship and intimidation to an end by challenging the Johnson Amendment, which imposes unconstitutional restrictions on clergy speech.”
The problem is that many pastors are afraid of speaking on political issues from the Bible for a variety of issues. Some love their paycheck and don’t want to rock the boat, while others don’t want to lose “tax exempt status.” The reality is that a church does not have to be a 501c3 organization to be tax exempt. It is tax exempt due to the very nature that it is a Church. Note the IRS’ own publication concerning this issue:
Automatic Exemption for Churches
Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Although there is no requirement to do so, many churches seek recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS because such recognition assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits. For example, contributors to a church that has been recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions generally are tax-deductible. (page 3)
In other words Churches, you are not required to be 501c3 to be tax exempt, it’s just if you want state recognition for the benefit of others… and I might add so that the government can pull your strings on issues like this one.
However, even though a Church may have received 501c3 status, Congress has already imposed limitations on the IRS as to how and when they may conduct tax inquiries and examinations of churches. They can only do that “if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption, may be carrying on an unrelated trade or business (within the meaning of IRC § 513), may otherwise be engaged in taxable activities or may have entered into an IRC § 4958 excess benefit transaction with a disqualified person.”
Even then, it provides nothing for them to be able to stop a Church’s free speech of what the Bible says to a particular issue that is in the sphere of the public. In fact, Christians are commanded to not only preach the gospel, but also to teach all that Christ commanded (Matt. 28: 19-20) and to do so when it’s palettable and when it’s not (2 Tim. 2:4), which would include issues like abortion, sodomy, unjust money, lawbreaking, theft, taxes, and a host of instruction God has provided in His Word.
This is the same agency that has been specifically targeting American citizens politically and yet, they are claiming to now be able to investigate pastor’s sermons? I think that is the height of hypocrisy, and so does ADF’s Erik Stanley.
Stanley says there is a trust issue, and he’s right. “Especially given the recent IRS scandal,” he said. “Churches should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to talk about. The IRS should not be the one making the decision by threatening to revoke a church’s tax-exempt status.”
“A pastor’s speech from the pulpit should not be subject to the whims of a government official,” concluded Stanley.
I agree, they should not, but I’ll go further: They are not to be subject to the whims of government.
Pastors, it’s time to man up. I suggest ridding yourself of 501c3 status and merely keep good records if there is ever a question, and start preaching the Word of God with boldness.
For more on this subject, I highly recommend Peter Kershaw’s excellent work, “In Caesar’s Grip.”
Tim Brown is the Editor of Freedom Outpost.