Maybe churches shouldn't be tax-exempt

As a debate over clergy openly endorsing political candidates heats up, there's a simple solution.

By Jason Notte Aug 26, 2013 10:36AM
Pews and stained glass windows in church (© Monashee Frantz/OJO Images/Getty Images)A conservative group wants churches to be able to endorse political candidates. The group's detractors say they have no problem with that -- as long as churches give up their tax-exempt status when doing so.

As Amelia Thompson-Deveaux at The American Prospect points out, the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations wants to change a 1954 law that prevents tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political figures. The group includes Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, but it primarily comprises Christian CPAs and church financial advisers. It has drawn support from Republicans such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Iowa Rep. Steve King, who want the group to take on the IRS directly.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans agree that churches should not be able to endorse political candidates. Still, since 2008, thousands of ministers who believe the prohibition on their speech is unconstitutional have participated in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," in which pastors openly endorse candidates from the pulpit and in some cases, transcribe their sermons and send them to the IRS, demanding an audit.

The IRS, however, hasn't audited a church on those grounds since 2009, when a federal judge threw out the IRS’s case against a Minnesota megachurch that had allegedly endorsed Michelle Bachmann. The judge said the IRS needed to clarify its internal regulations, but the IRS has shown little motivation to do so.

The problem is that the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations, the Pulpit Freedom Sunday participants and a group set up by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, want the IRS to change its rules to allow political endorsements for all nonprofits – but don't want them to give up their tax-exempt status to do so.

Organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Freedom from Religion Foundation don't like the sound of this one bit and have been pushing the IRS to prevent what they call "pulpit electioneering."

Slate's Matt Yglesias offered another approach: Make all houses of worship of all denominations pay taxes. Instead of discriminating against one religion over another or punishing a church for issuing a partisan statement on national policy rather than a nonpartisan one, tax all of them equally and allow all religious leaders to freely and openly endorse the political figures and ideology of their choosing.

Yglesias has some interesting company in this regard. Fox News analyst and former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee endorsed the same line of thinking earlier this summer.

"It may be time to quit worrying about the tax code and start thinking more about the truth of the living God," Huckabee told a group of Southern Baptist pastors. "We should stand more faithful with what God would have us say, and choose our freedom more than our financial benefit."

More on moneyNOW

Aug 26, 2013 11:55AM
Any organizations that engages in lobbying govenment shoud not recieve tax exempt status
Aug 26, 2013 1:16PM

No more tax exempt Churches. Except the chapel.
No more tax exempt Foundations  501-C, etc.
No more tax exempt Corporations.
No more tax exempt Political Organizations. 
No more business hand outs.
No more loopholes.
No more debt problems.
Tax them all.
Aug 26, 2013 12:02PM
How is allowing the tax free donations to support a candidate right?  What about the members who go to and donate to your church who don't support the candidate you are giving money to?  Is that fair to use their money to support your political ideas?  Churches are tax exempt for ONE reason- that money is supposed to be used to help the needy in the church and the poor and other CHARITY work that the churches do.  Although church now isn't about religion it is about business, plain and simple- especially a "mega-church" those are for profit places, with their pastors living in multi-million dollar homes and private jets- how is that helping to "God's work"?  If they can support politics, then I'll register myself as a church, get people to give me money, and then give to a few candidates, and keep the rest of myself tax free!  They want to get into the political arena, then let them pay taxes just like the rest of us!  
Aug 26, 2013 12:40PM
Yes, time to remove the tax exemption.
Aug 26, 2013 12:08PM
There`s a church down the street where the Pastor said "IF YOU VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS
YOU`RE GOING TO HELL"The church lost half it`s membership.
Aug 26, 2013 12:49PM
I agree--ALL churches should pay taxes, including real property taxes!  They've gotten a free ride for way too long!! 
Aug 26, 2013 11:35AM
No church should be immune to taxes. Any Sunday morning you can see the results of tax free business, heck if you have cable you have a dozen or so channels devoted to tax free business, if their fund raising practices were other than "churches" they would all be in jail for fraud.
Aug 26, 2013 1:31PM
One of the most intelligent decisions ever made in this country was the separation of church and state.  It has enabled the freedom of religion  for all citizens of the US.  Any church or group that preaches political views or endorses any candidate should automatically lose their tax exemption.  That includes Osama's former church in Chicago as well as many white bible thumping nut cases trying to push their views on the country.
Aug 26, 2013 1:22PM
Thou Shalt Not Steal .....Makes me laugh when it comes to the "money" part of organized religion. When they handed out flyers at my Catholic church telling everyone who to vote for based on the abortion issue alone, I QUIT going to church. Yes ... they should pay, and the big ones like the Catholic church should have to pay back taxes on their trillions in contributions, and how about property taxes on all the land and buildings they own ???
Aug 26, 2013 1:26PM

Churches should just stay out of politics altogether.  If Christ were walking the earth today, I doubt he'd be giving stump speeches for Rick Santorum or picketing outside of Planned Parenthood.

Aug 26, 2013 11:55AM
The rule-change would have to run across the non-profit realm - especially colleges/universities and arts organizations.  The contention that only churches enjoy tax-exemption while pushing political agendas is wholly false.
Aug 26, 2013 1:37PM

I have heard several ministers/preachers give sermons on who to vote for in political elections and know a lot of people who attend other churches that dictate who their members should vote for. This is what the founding fathers were trying to guard against. There should be a huge separation of politics and religion. I, for one, do not want to live under an American religious Taliban-style of government. Churches want to dictate their beliefs and mandate everyone to follow their dictates, even if everyone do not support those dictates. Keep separation of church and state the law of the land!!! And, take away tax-exempt status from all those thousands of churches who refuse to obey the LAW.


Is there any wonder that church membership keeps shrinking? 

Aug 26, 2013 1:26PM

Churches do not want government interference and no one really wants interference by the churches with government.  There are many religions out there and in America, picking and practicing your religion is important.  What is not needed, is a religion that takes over a government and forces its beliefs on all nonbelievers.


History shows, that when a religion rules a country, that democracy cannot stand.  Take a look at Iran and other Muslim states and see how little democracy they have because being free to do what you want, believe what you want and think what you want goes against most established religions.

Aug 26, 2013 1:36PM
I have no problem with a small church getting a tax break but I DO have a problem with these multi million dollar organizations, with real estate and investments etc getting them.  That is not what what intended.  It sickens me when I hear of some of these churches with millions in assets getting tax breaks.  I say tax them all.  More and more on a Sunday morning you can't drive down the street in Dallas without being stopped by some off duty copy controlling traffic. Why?  Why are they building churches with schools and football fields?  Selling books and pamphlets?  Religion has become too much of an industry not to tax them.
Aug 26, 2013 10:47AM
This problem is easily solved - get rid of the current federal tax structure and replace it with a National Sales Tax.  Everyone pays the same rate every time they buy something, not including food, which would be tax free for everyone.  Other than that, there are no exemptions, no credits, no deductions.
Aug 26, 2013 12:08PM

Religious institutions must be allowed to exist, if they can make it on their own dime.


If they can't, it wasn't a religion ready for sale to the general public, was it?

Aug 26, 2013 1:34PM
If they engage in politics in any way shape of form they should pay tax's.
Aug 26, 2013 1:48PM

Any organiziation with a paid employee should be taxed. There is no sense is taxing the local gardening club but as soon as a "club" gets big enough to have to pay someone to do anything it should be taxed.


Goodwill, Nursing Homes, the list goes on of huge "nonprofit" organizations that directly compete with tax paying businesses.


The tax code should be simple enough for the average highschool graduate to understand. As it is now not even the IRS understands it!

Aug 26, 2013 11:40AM
Should Unions that donate millions to the Democratic Party  and their politicians pay taxes?

Should the tax code be simplified? The last time they simplified it it became more complex.

So my question for the day is, Who is in charge?

Aug 26, 2013 1:45PM
They ABSOLUTELY should then you would see all the fakes that claim they are preaching Gods Messages run for the hills. There are so many fakes that are taking BILLIONS of dollars and paying nothing Bullshi*
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