Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pastors want to have their cake and eat it too

The New York Times has reported that there is a movement afoot by evangelical and other pastors to flout the IRS rule that prohibits churches, as tax-exempt organizations, from campaigning in elections.  They are going so far as to send the IRS tapes of their sermons.  

Clearly they wish the IRS to take action so that they can then sue the IRS.   As the Rev. James Garlow was reported in The New York Times as saying, “There should be no government intrusion in the pulpit.  The freedom of speech and the freedom of religion means pastors have full authority to say what they want to say.”

Of course … and they do have the right to say what they want to say.   There’s only one problem.  They have sought to be exempt from taxes by filing with the IRS as 501c(3) non-profit organizations.  One of the many rules for being entitled to this status and its exemption from taxes is that organizations cannot speak out for or against a candidate in an election … in effect, no campaigning.

It is important to note that the IRS provision does not prohibit all political speech.  Churches can be involved in educating their members on the issues in a non-partisan manner and individual members, even pastors, can speak out directly for or against a candidate if they do not do so using the church’s financial resources, facilities, or personnel and make clear they are speaking on their own behalf, not the church’s.

This rule applies to all 501c(3) organizations … not just churches.  It has nothing to do with freedom of religion.  If pastors want to be free to campaign from the pulpit and get their church involved in campaigns, then they just have to withdraw their churches from 501c(3) status.  The choice is theirs.