Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Someone forgot to read up on tax law

The church has always enjoyed a tax-free status in the US...and there have always been limits to that tax-free status. In particular, they must not be political in nature...else they are a political organization and are taxed as one. Someone, apparently, doesn't get this: Liberal Church May Lose Funds Over Sermon

The Internal Revenue Service has warned a prominent liberal church that it could lose it's tax-exempt status because of an anti-war sermon a guest preacher gave on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, according to church officials.

The Rev. George F. Regas did not urge parishioners at All Saints Episcopal Church to support either President Bush or John Kerry, but he was critical of the Iraq war and Bush's tax cuts.

The IRS warned the church in June that its tax-exempt status was in jeopardy because such organizations are prohibited from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The church's rector, J. Edwin Bacon, told his congregation about the problem Sunday.

"It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts," Bacon said.

Bacon later said he chose Sunday to inform the congregation because Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was in attendance and because he believes a decision from the IRS is imminent. He called the IRS threat "a direct assault on freedom of speech and freedom of religion."

An IRS spokesman in Washington declined to comment Monday, saying he could not discuss particular cases.

Some All Saints members said they feared the 3,500-member church was being singled out for its political views.

All Saints has long been vocal about its positions. Its Web site mentions the upcoming special election in California and says three Republican-backed propositions would "alter the very fabric of our lives as a democracy by limiting the right to representation and the right to express a political point of view." Regas, who gave the 2004 sermon, retired 10 years ago as the church's rector.

Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said the agency offered to drop the proceedings if the church admitted wrongdoing. The church declined the offer, he said.

The IRS has revoked a church's charitable designation at least once. A church in Binghamton, N.Y., lost its status after running advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy before the 1992 presidential election.

Now, before anyone says anything, this goes for any church that becomes political...conservative or liberal. I am aware that some conservative churches have crossed the line.

Churches I've been to in the past do not speak positions...they may "pray for the upcoming vote," but not become specific. Unlike this individual, I do not see it as a "free-speech" issue. I see it as an issue of purpose. The church has it's tax status because it is a non-profit, charitable organization. If the organization moves into political waters...then way should it not be taxed as such?


Blogger Darth Weasel said...

Because it establishes state control over what churches can and cannot teach. Agree or disagree, the Bible does specifically speak against homosexuality in both Old (Deuteronomy) and New (I Corinthians) testaments...so if a church-goer, believing it to be morally wrong, speaks against it, they are now taxable? Or abortion or war or whatever...ironically, I disagree with the church you speak about with every fiber of my being, but that does not remove their right...no, more than that, their responsibility to speak on what they believe. The Bible speaks on morality, and so long as that is what is used in any given message, it would be yet another blow to the freedoms we once had for the IRS to steal the Lord's money...not that many of the churches aren't doing that anyway by abusing it, but there it is.
Great site, by the way.

11 November, 2005 08:34  
Blogger FlaK said...

Hmmm...you have a good point. I'll have to mull this over a bit. The libertarian in me wants to say that all these hair-splitting issues disappear when the government is smaller...but that's just me avoiding the issue while I think about a better answer.

Oh, and thanks.

14 November, 2005 21:47  

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