Monday, August 4, 2014

IRS vs Churches

A part of churches possessing tax exempt status is that they must agree not to be a platform for political campaigning. In order to retain this favored tax status, they must not tell parishioners how to vote on an issue, or openly support any specific political candidates.

Enter the Freedom From Religion Foundation. They brought suit against the IRS for failure to actually enforce the no electioneering requirement. Recently, the IRS and FFRF made a deal. The IRS agreed to monitor churches and enforce the law if they were found to be in violation. In return, the FFRF agreed to drop their suit. In short, the IRS simply said, "Okay, we'll enforce the law that we were ignoring before." Sounds pretty reasonable, right? That doesn't matter it seems... Cue the religious outrage!

Because of this decision, I have seen Christians taking to their blogs to call the FFRF a militant group. Militant? Really? All they asked was that the law be enforced, and the IRS agreed to do just that. Where is militant about simply asking that people follow the law? Additionally, no tax free organization of any kind is allowed to promote a particular political candidate! So it's not like this is a religion only issue...

Some are taking issue with the phrasing that the IRS will be keeping an eye on churches. "What about temples and mosques?" they complain. "Why are they only picking on churches!" First off... No one is being picked on. The IRS is simply saying they will actually begin enforcing a law that they've ignored for years and years. Secondly, 'churches' in this context is referring to any places of worship. If a mosque openly tells it's congregation to vote for a particular candidate, they too will face the danger of losing their tax-free status.

Some are even calling this an assault on religious liberty... How exactly?! No one is being told that they can't practice their religion, or preach about what they want to preach about. If a church wants to openly campaign for a candidate in the next presidential campaign, they are free to do so. No one is going to stop them from doing so and infringe on their freedom of speech. But the ramification of doing so is a loss of the church's tax exempt status.

The same is true for other political issues. A church can preach about what their holy book has to say about abortion and homosexuality all they want. But what they can't do is to tell it's members how to vote on an issue. In the 2012 election, we had a referendum on the ballot for marriage equality. Maryland churches would have been free to talk about Leviticus 20:13 all they wanted. But what they couldn't do (at least legally) is tell the congregation to 'vote no on question 6', and retain their tax-free status.

What we have here is a very reasonable decision. The IRS made the right call to simply promise to enforce an existing law. Yet, somehow there are Christians among us that somehow think that churches having to follow the same law as every other tax exempt organization is a form of persecution. It simply boggles the mind, doesn't it?

-Brain Hulk

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