Freedom From Religion Foundation Suing IRS Over Churches That Participate In Politics

'The time for a free ride for churches is over. The rest of us pay so much more in taxes because clergy pay so much less.' – Lawsuit against IRS

‘The time for a free ride for churches is over. The rest of us pay so much more in taxes because clergy pay so much less.’ – Lawsuit against IRS

In the wake of an IRS scandal for targeting right-wing groups (actually both wings were targeted), an interesting progression came from a seemingly unlikely place. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman of the Western District of Wisconsin, on Monday, denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation against the Internal Revenue Service which was unable to suppress a lawsuit over its failure to audit thousands of churches that allegedly violated federal tax law by engaging in partisan advocacy. The 2012 suit was upheld and will move forward.

Adelman wrote in her ruling,

“If it is true that the IRS has a policy of not enforcing the prohibition on campaigning against religious organizations, then the IRS is conferring a benefit on religious organizations (the ability to participate in political campaigns) that it denies to all other 501(c)(3) organizations, including the Foundation.”

The Internal Revenue Code prohibits tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches, from intervening or participating in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. But you already knew that. That is a part of our country’s separation of church and state.

This is what our founding fathers warned us about when it came to mixing religion and politics. A policed church state is Orwell’s nightmare.

Conservatives campaign on the ideal of traditional values and God-given rights. Jefferson was very careful to use the word “inalienable” instead of God-given, even though officially “wall of separation between church and state” was recognized in 1802 as written in Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. In that letter, referencing the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Jefferson reflected his frequent speaking theme that the government is not to interfere with religion. The Bill of Rights is one of the earliest examples of complete religious freedom in the world.

The ideal of not mixing religion with politics is a foundational cornerstone of this country. This is what freedom looks like. Hypothetically, if you were going to get a good close look at Freedom as she floated by, separation of church and state is the base from where you would shoot your Zapruder film. Right-wing religion, if the term itself weren’t proof enough, is the magic bullet. This idea, this concept, is what so many thousands have bled and died for in defense of our nation since its birth.

The IRS is in charge of maintaining the checks and balances built into the system. They are the guards that stand watch over the tomb of this Jeffersonian soldier. And you are their commanding officer.

 “As a result, in recent years, churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions of §501(c)(3), including during the presidential election year of 2012,” FFRF wrote in its lawsuit.

Some pastors even record their overtly partisan sermons and send them to the IRS! This defiance flies in the face of the founding principles of this country. It is, in my humble opinion, criminal. If any organization deserves to have their exemption status pulled, and receive an audit and fine, it is those who condone exactly this type of behavior.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said,

“The time for a free ride for churches is over. The rest of us pay so much more in taxes because clergy pay so much less. If these churches — which are accountable to no one in government yet get so many favors — are allowed to engage in tax-exempt politicking, it would be the ruination of our democracy.”

She’s right! Churches engaging in political activism are the airplanes that fly into the building that is the house of democracy. If there is a story to follow, or an action to get involved with, it is the fight for the separation of church and state.

In a separate lawsuit, the organization has challenged the annual information filings exemptions provided to churches and other religious organizations. Tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations must file detailed information with the IRS to obtain and maintain their tax-exempt status, unless they are a church. The FFRF, which is also a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, said allowing churches, but not other nonprofits, to engage in politicking was unfair. The group alleged the IRS had a “policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions” when it came to churches and religious organizations.

And so the suit moves to its next phase. It will be heard. But I want you to refer back to Adelman’s quote above and realize that even if the IRS is found not to have a “policy” internally, that does not mean that it is acceptable for churches to inject their beliefs into your government.

Every day you see, hear or read of some right-wing religious zealot twisting the Bible, manipulating and interpreting scripture to conform to their individual beliefs, to then insert it into our political process. Or a political figure saying something like this country was founded on Christian principles. And when you do, regardless of your religious convictions, you must scream out NO! That’s not what our country is about!

This is the type of thing that makes me run to the window, throw open the sash, and holler out in Howard Beale fashion, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” And if you consider this country worth saving, it would do the same to you. I’ll keep an eye on this. But not so you don’t have to also. If it matters to you that this is how religion is destroying our country, not the particular religion itself but an injection of one’s religious beliefs into the process of governing, then you must take a stand for the country, as Jefferson did for you.