Enforcing Church Electioneering Rules Doesn’t Violate The First Amendment

clipart of a minister preaching from a pulpit

Last month I posted about a settlement between the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over policing electioneering by churches. The IRS had for years dragged its feet in investigating complaints about churches violating the terms of the tax exemption rules by getting too political. Of course conservatives now claim, with the settlement, that a church’s first amendment rights will be violated. Such a claim is utter hogwash.

On Saturday, Tucker Carlson told Pajamas Media Legal Editor J. Christian Adams that this was another examples of “liberal politicians, liberal groups asking the IRS to crush organizations that they don’t agree with.”

“They want to use IRS as a weapon against Christianity, against faith,” Adams agreed. “Using the power of government to go after faith, that’s what it’s about. Sure, there are going to be churches in the South that go after Democrats, but it’s a much bigger and far more dangerous campaign they’re on.”

“This is basically an assault on people of faith,” Carlson opined.

“They want to turn belief in constitutional principles, belief in God into a political thing,” Adams declared. “They want to use the IRS to go after people who express their faith from the pulpit and urge action. That’s the important part, they want people who believe to shut up.”

Tucker Carlson: Atheists ‘Assaulting’ Christians With IRS Rules Against Church Electioneering

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has requested information from the IRS and Department of Justice regarding a recent settlement in a case alleging illegal electioneering by tax-exempt churches.

Pruitt referred to the FFRF as having an “unabashed desire” to destroy the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion and described an agreement between the foundation and the IRS alarming.

He wrote: “If federal policy regarding religious organizations’ eligibility for tax-exempt status … has changed, so as to make it more difficult for religious organizations to maintain such status, the State of Oklahoma needs to be made aware of such changes, so that it can ensure that state law adequately represents the State’s longstanding policy of vigorously protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

Pruitt writes IRS, DOJ regarding agreement policing tax-exempt churches

Chucklehead Tucker Carlson and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt are both wrong about the legal settlement.

Rules against churches electioneering have been around since the Johnson Amendment was added to the tax code in 1954. The lawsuit that was settled was because the IRS wasn’t enforcing those rules.

Here are the rules under the tax code:

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention

The Restriction of Political Campaign Intervention by Section 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organizations

As the FFRF put it:

“Contrary to the hysterical disinformation machine that is Fox News Network, and the scaremongering claims of religious zealots such as Tony Perkins and ADF, churches are not, as a result of our settlement, being selectively targeted by the IRS for investigations. The opposite was true, as our lawsuit showed. The IRS was selectively not enforcing the law when it came to churches, and now the IRS will go back to enforcing the law even-handedly.”

Added FFRF Co-President Dan Barker, “Our legal action has ensured that churches cannot act as unaccountable Political Action Committees using tax-exempt dollars to influence the outcome of elections.”

FFRF anti-church electioneering victory is final

You can read more details on the case on the FFRF website.

I also note Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt snide comment about state law shielding a church from the IRS rules.

… the State of Oklahoma needs to be made aware of such changes, so that it can ensure that state law adequately represents the State’s longstanding policy of vigorously protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

This is the same state that passed a constitutional amendment banning Sharia law in the state. The amendment was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the First Amendment.

So much for “vigorously protecting freedom of religion and freedom of speech”. Forgive me if I don’t look to Oklahoma as an authority on civil rights.

Compelling the IRS to enforce their own rules doesn’t prevent churches from preaching their brand of religion. The rules have nothing to do with their theism. All the tax rule says is that a church that gets directly involved in politics, or shows a bias toward one particular candidate or party, could lose their tax exemption.

The simple solution for churches and religious groups who think the rule is unfair is to drop their tax exemption immediately. There is no law, federal or state, that forces a church to have a tax exemption.

Groups and people like me who support separation of church and state want government neutrality toward religion. That is it treats the religious just like everyone else under the law. It also requires that the religious follow the law that applies to everybody else.


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