Religion And Politics: IRS Not Enforcing Rules On Separation Of Church And State

NEW YORK (AP) — For the past three years, the Internal Revenue Service hasn't been investigating complaints of partisan political activity by churches, leaving religious groups who make direct or thinly veiled endorsements of political candidates unchallenged.

The IRS monitors religious and other nonprofits on everything from salaries to spending, and that oversight continues. However, Russell Renwicks, a manager in the IRS Mid-Atlantic region, recently said the agency had suspended audits of churches suspected of breaching federal restrictions on political activity. A 2009 federal court ruling required the IRS to clarify which high-ranking official could authorize audits over the tax code's political rules. The IRS has yet to do so.

Dean Patterson, an IRS spokesman in Washington, said Renwicks, who examines large tax-exempt groups, "misspoke." Patterson would not provide any specifics beyond saying that "the IRS continues to run a balanced program that follows up on potential noncompliance."

However, attorneys who specialize in tax law for religious groups, as well as advocacy groups who monitor the cases, say they know of no IRS inquiries in the past three years into claims of partisanship by houses of worship. IRS church audits are confidential, but usually become public as the targeted religious groups fight to maintain their nonprofit status.

"The impression created is that no one is minding the store," said Melissa Rogers, a legal scholar and director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina. "When there's an impression the IRS is not enforcing the restriction — that seems to embolden some to cross the line."

The issue is closely watched by a cadre of attorneys and former IRS officials who specialize in tax-exempt law, along with watchdog groups on competing sides of the church-state debate.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which seeks strict limits on religious involvement in politics, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, which considers the regulations unconstitutional government intrusion, scour the political landscape for any potential cases. While Americans United gathers evidence it hopes will prompt an IRS investigation, the Alliance Defending Freedom jumps in to provide a defense. Neither group knows of any IRS contact with houses of worship over political activity since the 2009 federal ruling.

Read the rest here.


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This gives me to wonder - who is in the front office of the IRS and what are his or her religious proclivities?  It would seem that the IRS has a talent for looking the other way as regards a religious violation of church / state separation while it actively pursues other tax scofflaws.  Strikes me, we're looking at a case of dereliction of duty here, something that the office of the Attorney General should be looking into.

When an event such as Pulpit Freedom Sunday is touted openly with NO reaction from the federal government, something is seriously WRONG.

Tags: IRS, Pulpit Freedom Sunday, church, separation, state

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Replies to This Discussion

That's just wrong. Why are they passing up all that tax money?

Doesn't the government need that money because of it's trillion dollar deficit?

The way I see it, this tax code is a bargain.  If churches aren't going to keep their end of the bargain, than neither should the IRS.  If churches want to endorse candidates, they need to pay their taxes.

You're right, Steph! It's so logical (not!) for the right wing to assert both that

  1. the U.S. deficit must be addressed NOW!!!
    (disgusting hypocrisy, given how Romney saddled other people with huge debt to make his fortune, but that's another story),
    and
  2. keep your hands off the churches!!! Churches are entitled to tax exemptions, no matter what they do, as some kind of god-given right, Just Because.

["Money over religion" by ~flatmate on deviantART]

Personal opinion, but I think any religious organization should be allowed to endorse any candidate they wish. Black  churches for the President, and White churches for "anybody but a black guy." I don't see why we have rules and regulations prohibiting this business from engaging in free speech, yet other businesses are allowed to speak their mind over any subject they want.

But...., I also think the tax exempt status should be revoked for religions. Period. No qualifications, no reservations, and no exceptions. They are, after all, a business just like Proctor & Gamble, or Stanley Home Cleaners.  Their product is fear of the afterlife. And, like consulting firms the nation over, they sell  advice. Their advice happens to be how to get to a non-existent and eternal happy land theme park. But it's advice that's doled out for a profit, nevertheless.  Advice which is tailored to their market, and which they successfully peddle every day of the week. Double the profit margin on the sabbath. They have salaried employees, own real estate, have managing directors, engage in commerce (you got to buy bibles and church pews from someone), engage in advertising, and do all those other things other businesses do.

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion...  Seems to me that tax exemptions do just that. You want freedom of speech in this country just like the rest of us enjoy? Then pay your fair share just like the rest of us do.

I'd love to see it, Pat.  Still, can you imagine the screaming and yelling of all those privileged "holy men" when they learn that their free lunch just folded its tents and moved on?  I have no doubt the uproar would be enormous.

Fact is, though, it IS a fair trade.  If religion wants to have a say in the political marketplace, there is a price to pay.  So far, they have skated on that bill.  Yeah, it would be unpopular and yeah, it would be nigh unto impossible to get through Congress ... but maybe it's time for a putsch.

If we're going to be honest, we'd treat religion like any other business. Loren, you sell your expertise as an engineer, and don't give away your services for free. As for me, I'm a lawyer, and don't give my advice and expertise out for free. Religion peddles their phony advice and useless services, and yet unlike you and I who have to file 1040's, they skip the "kick in" for the government which protects them. It's time they're treated the same as "Thigh Master," "Malboro Cigarettes," and "Kraft Macaroni and Cheese." They want the benefits of the government under which they operate, then pay for it like the rest of us. Pure and simple.

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