ADF recruiting Fundies to challenge IRS ban on churches endorsing politicians.

The Fundies are getting worried that they’re losing the Culture War it seems. The Alliance Defense Fund is looking for pastors to challenge the IRS rules against churches endorsing political candidates:

CHICAGO—Declaring that clergy have a constitutional right to endorse political candidates from their pulpits, the socially conservative Alliance Defense Fund is recruiting several dozen pastors to do just that on Sept. 28, in defiance of Internal Revenue Service rules.

The effort by the Arizona-based legal consortium is designed to trigger an IRS investigation that ADF lawyers would then challenge in federal court. The ultimate goal is to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a 54-year-old ban on political endorsements by tax-exempt houses of worship.

“For so long, there has been this cloud of intimidation over the church,” ADF attorney Erik Stanley said. “It is the job of the pastors of America to debate the proper role of church in society. It’s not for the government to mandate the role of church in society.”

[…] The battle over the clergy’s privileges, rights and responsibilities in the political world is not new. Politicians of all stripes court the support—explicit or otherwise—of religious leaders. Allegations surface every political season of a preacher crossing the line.

What is different is the Alliance Defense Fund’s direct challenge to the rules that govern tax-exempt organizations. Rather than wait for the IRS to investigate an alleged violation, the organization intends to create dozens of violations and take the U.S. government to court on First Amendment grounds.

“We’re looking for churches that are serious-minded about this, churches that understand both the risks and the benefits,” Stanley said, referring to the chance that they could lose their coveted tax-exempt status or could set a precedent.

Fortunately this challenge isn’t going.. uh… unchallenged:

Yet an opposing collection of Christian and Jewish clergy will petition the IRS today to stop the protest before it starts, calling the ADF’s “Pulpit Initiative” an assault on the rule of law and the separation of church and state.

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.

“As religious leaders, we have grave concerns about the ethical implications of soliciting and organizing churches to violate core principles of our society,” the clergy wrote in an advance copy of their claim obtained by The Washington Post.

[…] Former IRS lawyer Marcus S. Owens, however, opposes the ADF’s strategy and its legal reasoning. Working with the Ohio-based clergy, he contends that the Supreme Court would be unlikely to overturn appellate court rulings on the issue or a related precedent of its own.

Owens also criticizes ADF and its lawyers for “actively advising churches and pastors that they should violate the tax law and offering to explain how to do that. The tax system would be shut down if you allowed attorneys to counsel people on how to violate the tax law.”

Owens, a former director of the IRS office that regulates tax-exempt organizations, will ask the tax agency to investigate ADF lawyers for “this flagrant disregard of the ethical rules.” He is joined by former IRS commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin and Cono R. Namorato, who headed the office of professional responsibility at the IRS until 2006.

The two Ohio pastors, the Rev. Eric Williams and the Rev. Robert F. Molsberry, have called for hundreds of clergy to preach on Sept. 21 about the value of the separation of church and state.

Even given the Conservative bent of the current Supreme Court I’d still be very surprised if they overturned the IRS rules considering the rather large number of court challenges that have failed as well as a precedent setting SCOTUS case in the past. That said perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have them challenge it as they risk their tax-free status in doing so. Personally I think Churches should be stripped of their tax-free status and then they can endorse politicians all they want. Make the tax scale progressive so the biggest churches pay more taxes than the smaller churches and things would be just dandy.

13 thoughts on “ADF recruiting Fundies to challenge IRS ban on churches endorsing politicians.

  1. Forgive my naiveté but why are preachers not allowed to endorse a specific politician?  And what qualifies as “endorsing” in this instance? Simply saying to vote for a particular candidate or contributing money? Or both?

    Is a preacher allowed to denounce a candidate? As in tell people not to vote for a certain candidate?

    Just never knew about these rules so I’m curious as to the reasoning and extent of them.

  2. I’m guessing its to do with the Seperation clause, and the fact churches get Tax breaks- effectively the church is using Federal money to support a political candidate, and the State can not show preference. 

    In the UK civil servants get issued instructions at election times to make sure we don’t influence votes.  Party managers sit with stopwatches timing the coverage the other parties get, as all air time must be fair.  Though parties can buy billboards, they can’t pay for TV ads (which is why we think £20m is a lot of money at election time).  Instead there are carefully regulated “Party Political Broadcasts”.  You certainly couldn’t do half the stuff they do in the US.

  3. let the places of worship endorse who they will. people will know where they stand. that alone will be worth it.

  4. But why should Les et al pay for “VOTE PALIN, PALIN FOR THE WHITEHOUSE (er we mean McCain) THAT’S IT VOTE MCPALIN, PALIN FOR THE PRES!  If someone has a taxbreak, that portion is funded by everyone else.

  5. I think the churches should be able to endorse whomever they wish. However I don’t see why they should get tax breaks in the first place.

  6. The folks at Americans United have a pretty good explanation of the rule:

    Contrary to the claims of many in the Religious Right, the IRS is not singling out houses of worship for special regulation. Thousands of educational, scientific, charitable and literary organizations hold the 501(c)(3) status, and all must abide by the legal requirement barring involvement in elections.

    Why does this rule exist? The answer is obvious upon a moment’s reflection: Non-profit organizations receive tax exemption because their work is charitable, educational or religious. That tax benefit comes with conditions. One requirement is that tax-exempt organizations refrain from involvement in partisan politics. This is a reasonable rule, since tax-exempt groups are supposed to work for the public good, not spend their time and money trying to elect or defeat candidates.

    This regulation is also designed to protect the integrity of the election process. Special types of organizations already exist to help political hopefuls win public office. Those groups, such as Political Action Committees, have a different tax status and are organized under a different set of rules than 501(c)(3) groups, rules designed to ensure that the nation’s campaign-finance laws are followed. Blurring the distinction between these two types of organizations would harm both religion and politics.

    Go read the whole thing. It’s a good primer.

  7. Christians and the religious right are THE biggest problem facing the American political process today. In no way should the church collective be allowed to have any say or sway in our national, state or local elections, UNLESS they collectively decide to give up their tax exempt status. And even then they would be far to dangerous a threat to the clear minded rational folk out there.

    If you want religion, go to church. If you want to politic, go to the state house, but keep your god damned crucifixion out of my constitution.

  8. I agree with the notion that they should shed this abused nonsense that they’re non-political, pay their taxes like everyone else, and run their Jesus-Loves-Sarah’s-Vagina Clubs on an even par with other for-profit businesses.

    We might even be able to pay for nationalize health care on all those taxes.

  9. @Last_Hussar “But why should Les et al pay for “VOTE PALIN, PALIN FOR THE WHITEHOUSE (er we mean McCain) THAT’S IT VOTE MCPALIN, PALIN FOR THE PRES!  If someone has a taxbreak, that portion is funded by everyone else. “

    let places of worship officially do what at least some of them are doing now anyway – that way it will be transparent. most likely, people and places of worship will not like what they see other places of worship doing with their “tax free money” and perhaps the tax-exempt laws will change.

    how groovy would that be?

  10. @Last_Hussar “But why should Les et al pay for “VOTE PALIN, PALIN FOR THE WHITEHOUSE (er we mean McCain) THAT’S IT VOTE MCPALIN, PALIN FOR THE PRES!  If someone has a taxbreak, that portion is funded by everyone else. “

    let places of worship officially do what at least some of them are doing now anyway – that way it will be transparent. most likely, people and places of worship will not like what they see other places of worship doing with their “tax free money” and perhaps the tax-exempt laws will change.

    how groovy would that be?

  11. Wait a minute! Isn’t “God” all-powerful? Couldn’t He strike the IRS if they try to tamper with the Church’s “God-given” right to endorse politicians? What’s the big deal, here? Just get a little focused prayer going and the situation is solved.  tongue wink snake

  12. So the ADF is saying something along the same lines as “how did our oil get under their land?”, just phrased a bit differently: “how did our money get under their conditions?”

    I think it’s fine that churches get a tax break for any charitable work they do, but only for the charity; and they should be subject to the same kind of scrutiny as any other organization claiming tax-exempt status.  Giving churches a blanket exemption from tax is religious discrimination, and an open invitation to fraud.

  13. So the ADF is saying something like “how did our oil get under their land?”, but just a little differently: “how did our money get under their conditions?”.

    I agree.  If churches do charitable works, they should get tax breaks for them, just as secular organizations do.  But they should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other charitable organization.  To give churches a blanket exemption from tax is religious discrimination, and an open invitation to fraud.

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