Is This Church Violating IRS Tax Exempt Rules?

What does it say about this Sugarcreek area church when a large sign in its front yard says, “This Church Votes Pro-Life”? It sounds, to me, like the church is promulgating an official church political position.  It sounds, to me, without a doubt, like this church is advocating the election of pro life candidates.   When its big sign (the other side) says, “We Vote For Traditional Values,” I bet THEY have some very specific “traditional value” candidates in mind who THEY are advocating.

I’m thinking that it is likely that in the vestibule of this church there is helpful political literature / voter cards that clearly identifies exactly which candidates are “pro life,” which candidates promote “traditional values.”

But even if that is not the case, I’m wondering if the IRS would approve of a political sign this bold in front of a tax exempt organization?  The IRS has rules.  I wonder if this church is going over the line?

In my googling effort to educate myself about IRS rules, I found an AP report about an organized effort, just several weeks ago, by 32 pastors who agreed on a given Sunday to defy IRS rules and from their pulpits endorse specific candidates for political office.   This group of pastors was organized by a group called The Alliance Defense Fund and their deliberate strategy is to provoke the IRS into taking action.  The Alliance feels that a court will rule in its favor and will force the IRS to change its current rules.

I’ve got to wonder if maybe Dayton has a local chapter of this Alliance Defense Fund at Emmanuel Baptist Church influencing this church to be particularly provocative.  (“Let’s put a huge political sign in the church’s front yard!”)

I found an AP article, dated September 29, “Pastors’ political endorsements draw complaints,” that gives more information:

“A church-state separation group filed complaints Monday with the Internal Revenue Service against six churches whose pastors either endorsed or made pointed comments about political candidates from their pulpits Sunday in defiance of federal tax law.

“The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based conservative legal group, orchestrated the pulpit protest to invite IRS scrutiny and a legal fight it hopes will lead to the restrictions being found unconstitutional.

“The group released a list Monday of 33 participating pastors – most if not all from conservative evangelical churches – and pledged to defend them.

“The pastors intend to send copies of their sermons to the IRS. But Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State didn’t wait for that: The group filed complaints Monday with the IRS about six pastors whose sermons were detailed in media reports.

“Five of the six supported Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The sixth, Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., said: “According to my Bible and in my opinion, there is no way in the world a Christian can vote for Barack Hussein Obama.” Drake was not among the pastors Alliance Defense Fund selected for the protest and was acting independently.

“The five others reported to the IRS were Jody Hice of Bethlehem First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Ga.; Paul Blair of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla.; Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn.; Francis Pultro of Calvary Chapel Kings Highway in Philadelphia; and Luke Emrich of New Life Church in West Bend, Wis.

“The IRS has said it would “take action as appropriate.”

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11 Responses to Is This Church Violating IRS Tax Exempt Rules?

  1. Rick says:

    Mike, black churches have not only regularly had pastors preach political sermons, they also frequently had their favorites politicians address their congregations. For decades they have openly flouted the IRS rules, but the IRS has turned a blind eye towards the violators. I don’t recall you ever criticizing them or calling for equal enforcement. Why is that?

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Rick, Saturday, I drove by this church and was amazed that there would be such a big sign with such messages in the church’s front yard. These messages seem to me very political. To say, “This church votes Pro-life,” is saying, “This church votes for candidates who have a pro-life position.” So, I turned around and took the picture.

    For a church to indicate that it has a litmus test for candidates, that prioritizes for its members which candidates they should vote for, seems wrong. The sign, to me, indicates a political position, rather than a spiritual or religious position. The sign indicates that someone in that church is probably sifting out candidates who hold political positions in keeping with, what, evidently, is this church’s official voting guide. This church is on a beautiful piece of ground for which it pays no taxes and all donations given to the church are tax deductible. This church’s tax advantage is being subsidized by all tax payers. My tax money and your tax money is indirectly subsidizing this church and if this church is advocating specific candidates, then its tax advantage is unfair.

    Yes, you make a good point that black churches for years have been known for political activity. But, it is possible for churches to seem political without violating IRS rules. Certainly, if the minister of this church, whose picture I took, wanted to give religious teaching about abortion, and would preach that abortion is evil or immoral, that abortion is against the teaching of the Bible, such preaching would be in keeping with what churches are expected to do. Abortion is a moral issue. But to preach that a candidate’s stand on Roe v Wade should be the litmus test, determining how one should vote, goes over the line, and politicizes the issue. And this politicization is particularly odious, if, as I’ve seen happen, the church passes out information cards showing the candidates’ stands on the issue.

    The idea of “economic justice,” how society should treat the poor, is also a moral issue. And, if I drove by a church that had a big sign in its front yard saying, “This church votes for candidates who advocate economic justice,” I would stop and take a picture at that church also. Such a sign would be wrong. If a church preached that a candidate’s stand on “economic justice” should be the litmus test that determines how to vote, and would give out helpful voter guides showing which candidates agree with the church’s position, then that church would be wrong.

    You say, “For decades they (black churches) have openly flouted the IRS rules, but the IRS has turned a blind eye towards the violators.” I don’t know that your accusation is true, but, regardless, I believe that the IRS should have clear rules about the political activity of tax exempt organizations that it enforces impartially.

  3. Rick says:

    Mike, you are right when you say: “I believe that the IRS should have clear rules about the political activity of tax exempt organizations that it enforces impartially.” I believe that the IRS is shy of enforcing the rule because of fears it would be caused racist. There is a movement afoot among conservative churches of being more political because the IRS has sat on its ass for years. You see, Mike, I don’t believe this rule will ever be enforced against black churches so it should not be enforced against any church.

  4. Ann Marie says:

    Our local paper, the San Jose Mercury News, today had a full page ad telling people to vote for a proposition, and another full page ad telling people to vote against it. Both ads were “signed” by numerous churches. Isn’t this a direct violation of IRS rules for tax exempt status?

  5. Jeff says:

    Is it just me or is anyone else concerned about the millions of dollars spent by a certain church in support of California’s Proposition 8? IRS rulings are clear on the tax exempt status of religious institutions in support of candidates, but appear to be vague on the endorsement of propositions. However, it would seem any campaign (candidate or proposition) financed by a religious institution should lose their status given the outcome of their actions on so many individual campaigns.

  6. Mike Bock says:

    Slate Magazine writes about how the Morman church supported Proposition 8, and how Morman church members contributed over $14 million to support passage of the issue. You raise an interesting question about whether the church’s activity violated their IRS tax exempt status. I’ve not seen anything written about the IRS angle yet. Slate also reports that some Mormans opposed their church’s stand on this issue.

  7. Me says:

    Of course a church votes pro life. All true Christians do. It would be impossible to be a Christian and vote liberal because the Democrats stand for everything evil that Christians should avoid.

    I suppose it’s better than Barrack Hussein Obama’s pastor who hates the United States. Now THAT is a problem.

  8. In response to; Me (Above)

    Many of us “Christians” DID vote for Barack Obama

    YOUR DISGUSTING lies about his religion or birthplace failed to hit the mark.

    The choice was OBVIOUS.

    Contrary to what YOU SAY, not ALL christians believe like YOU do.
    In fact, Christians who believe in the GARBAGE that you swill are quickly losing numbers FAST!
    If you want to be a HYPROCRATE, then SO BE IT!
    But don’t be SO FAST to include ALL CHRISTIANS as sharing the same view as YOU, because many of us christians ARE NOT as FOWL AND CORRUPT as YOU ARE!

  9. Joe says:

    How about a church in NC who has next to their sign a sign orging people to vote against gay marriage!
    ap wire has the photo, it looks like a CLEAR violation to me!

    Signs display messages about gay marriage in front of the Devon Park United Methodist Church polling site on Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Wilmington, N.C.
    (Credit: AP Photo)

  10. Rick says:

    Chuck, sorry, I am one who believes that someone who is liberal in these days cannot be a christian. Do you support the hypocritical stand of the IRS which has a policy of ignoring the very politicized African-American churches?

  11. Darryl says:

    Churches can take stances on issues. Churches can also have candidates visit their churches. They cannot treat a Democrat or Republican candidate differently. If a candidate of one party asks to greet a congregation and they accept; then they are obligated to accept if a candidate from another party asks. If they invite a candidate of one party, they should invite all candidates.

    From what I’ve seen over the last 4 years, most churches abide by these rules – including the ones discussed above. The only exception to this observation are the “evangelical” pastors who are blatantly breaking the law and endorsing Republican candidates.

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