Sunday, October 7, 2012

Being a religion, in itself, is not enough to make you tax exempt

There's a reason that most religious organizations don't have to pay taxes in the US.  It's a very simple reason.  The idea of separation of church and state cuts both ways.  The state isn't supposed to be fucking around with churches, churches aren't supposed to be fucking around with the state.

Thus, ideally, religious organizations are non-political.  Your pastor will never stand up at the pulpit and tell you who to vote for for president or anything else.

That's ideally.

That is also, for the record, what any religious organization claims when they apply for tax exempt status.  They bear witness that they will not do that.  That they will not be political.

Today is, apparently, the erroneously named "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," otherwise known as, "You know that witness we bore when we asked for tax exempt status?  It was false witness."  It's the day when pastors across the nation step up to the pulpit and be as political as they can possibly be.  Then they send a copy of their extremely political speech to the IRS saying, basically, "Fuck you.  We lied to you.  Now what are you going to do about it?" in hopes that the IRS will at long last reply, "You lying bastards, your tax exempt status just went bye-bye."  As far as I know the IRS has yet to do such a thing.

Which, by the way, is a great disappointment to the bearers of false witness because they have an army of lawyers ready and waiting to take the IRS to court and, lawyers aside, they're salivating at the thought that they can turn this into a claim that, see, they really are persecuted.

To be clear, even though it's exactly what the bearers of false witness want, the IRS should take the bait.  They should revoke tax exempt status from these churches.  The churches broke the rules, they did it intentionally, they did it publicly, and they plan to do it again and again.  They are flaunting their flouting of the law and, while it's what they want, the law should treat them the way the law says they should be treated.

If someone breaks the rules because they want to suffer the consequences, that doesn't change the fact that they did break the rules and they should suffer the consequences.

Going after these bearers of false witness may be what they want, but it's also the right thing to do.  It plays into their claims of persecution, but the truth is that it's really just treating them like everyone else.  The IRS should revoke their tax exempt status because that's the IRS's job, the fact that they want it revoked so they can pitch a fit and go to court shouldn't enter into the equation.

If they are forced to play by the rules they're going to cry persecution, but if they aren't, if they're allowed to keep on breaking the rules without consequence, then they're getting special treatment.  If they can break the rules with impunity they're getting privileged above everyone else.  If most people lie to the IRS and then send the IRS proof that they lied just to taunt the IRS they're going to have to face consequences.  Churches shouldn't be treated any differently.

They were presented with a choice, you can be non political and be tax exempt, or you can be political and not be tax exempt.  They've decided that they don't have to make that choice.  They're being political and refusing to pay taxes.  They're breaking the rules.

It doesn't matter that they've got an army of lawyers to try to help them get away with it, it doesn't matter that they want someone to try to enforce the rules upon them, it doesn't matter that this is a political stunt and responding to it is what they want, none of that matters.  What matters is that they're breaking the rules.  When they break the rules they need to be held accountable no matter the politics of the issue.

You can say whatever you want, but you can't get a tax deduction, or in this case an exemption, if you lied to get it and that lie is discovered.  We know the lie was discovered in the past (they sent the IRS the proof themselves) and will be discovered this time (for they will send the proof) so it's time for their exemption to go bye-bye.


  1. I'm inclined to agree. I'd go further: I don't think "religious organisation" needs to exist as a special category distinct from "charity".

  2. The First Rule is "Don't rock the boat". Some pastors saying things that they really, as good pastor-citizens, should not say, is par for the course. Officially taking notice of this, is rocking the boat. If there were some votes to be gained you might see some action, but anyone so far left as to be pleased by an IRS crackdown on this issue is already voting Democratic. That said, I agree with you . . .