Over 1300 churches chose to ignore tax law preventing any church that receives tax exempt status from intervening in political campaigns. Advocates for separation of church and state demand their status be revoked.
According to ProCon.org, churches have had official tax exempt status in the United States since 1894. As they explain the term church is used "in its generic sense as a place of worship including, for example, mosques and synagogues," as well as "conventions and associations of churches [and] integrated auxiliaries of a church." While there has been much open debate over whether churches should in fact have tax exempt status in the United States – something that ProCon.org does a wonderful job of covering. Something that has not been discussed as much, however, is the law that was passed in 1954 that prevents churches from intervening in political campaigns in order to keep their tax exempt status. This is likely due to the fact that in very few cases has the IRS actually revoked the license of churches who violate this law.
That fact has not kept many churches from declaring their outrage at the law, specifically within the Christian faith. The Watch reported on October 4th that over 1300 churches had signed up for an event called Pulpit Freedom Sunday in which, “over a thousand religious leaders across the country plan to engage in political activity from the pulpit by openly endorsing or opposing candidates,” which is in clear violation of IRS statutes which allow them to continue as tax exempt organizations.
So far there has been no action taken by the IRS, and according to Reuters there is unlikely to be any due to an IRS loss in a 2009 case in which the audit procedures for the IRS were challenged. Though the IRS has since stated it “planned to examine allegations of political intervention by pastors” Reuters stated that experts from they spoke with indicated it was unlikely the IRS would “move against Pulpit Freedom Sunday this year, chiefly because of the absence of a new audit procedure for churches.”
For some, however, this is unacceptable and they have taken to the internet to call for a change. Mike Daniels has started an online petition using change.org requesting that the tax exempt status be revoked. One passage from the petition which Daniels plans to send to the IRS, the President of the United States, and all Senators and Representatives reads:
This year, 1,000 pastors have pledged to break the law and thumb their noses at IRS regulations. The agency's inaction has led to an increase in lawlessness.
It's time the IRS revoked tax-exempt status of those who refuse to follow the rules that come with this privilege. Last year, houses of worship in the US received a collective tax break of $25 billion, considering both income and local property taxes.
At the time this article went to press, the petition had received 6,903 of the 100,000 signatures that Daniels hopes to receive.
Regardless how many signatures the petition receives it is likely to be an uphill battle to have any action taken. With elections just around the corner it is hard to believe that the President or any other elected official will be willing to challenge one of the largest voting blocs in the United States. However, given that the number of pastors who are participating is increasing it seems inevitable that this is one political battle that will be fought in the near future.