Tax Exempt Religious Groups Continue To Break The Law By Politicking From the Pulpit

Tax Exempt Religious Groups Continue To Break The Law By Politicking From the Pulpit

Tax Churches

When Barack Obama was elected President, the level of racial animus among many in conservative ranks informed that Republicans would go all in to find, or create, a phony scandal to disqualify him from serving that failed miserably, but it is not because they did not try. Even before the President was re-elected last November, Republican harpies flailed away at the faux scandal surrounding the Benghazi embassy attack, and found another phony scandal after learning the IRS did its job in scrutinizing tax exempt status for partisan political groups posing as social welfare organizations. However, if Republicans are duty-bound to find a real scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service, they should appoint a special prosecutor to ferret out, and correct forthwith, the scandalous practice of giving religious organizations tax exemption and end taxpayer-funded religious welfare that costs the people, local communities, and federal government billions of dollars in an unconstitutional practice that has gone on far too long.

It never fails that even mentioning eliminating religious organizations’ tax exempt status (welfare) brings out emotional outbursts from those who believe all Americans are responsible for subsidizing religion, and simply suggesting that these groups should pay taxes incurs outrage because churches allegedly provide beneficial services or charitable work and should therefore be tax exempt. However, religious groups and clergy provide nothing of value to the public, and yet real community service providers such as firefighters, school teachers, police officers, and nurses are bound by law to pay taxes that ironically fund services churches use for free.  Putting aside the federal government’s scandalous practice of forcing all Americans to pay tithes in the form of tax subsidies for religious organizations, there is the economic cost to the nation as well as the depravity of the federal government enforcing a law with respect to religion prohibited in the 1st Amendment.

First, it is important to note that churches are granted tax exemption automatically that is distinct from religiously-based nonprofit groups which must file Form 990 form like other 501(c)(3) for charities and are required to account for their finances to ensure individuals do not profit, and that money raised under nonprofit auspices is being spent for nonprofit purposes. In a Supreme Court case, Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York, 397 U.S. 664 (1970), Justice Douglas wrote that “one of the best ways to ‘establish’ one or more religions is to subsidize them, which a tax exemption does. A tax exemption is a subsidy” and he cited a primary architect of the Constitution, James Madison, who famously said he vigorously objected to “any citizen being compelled to contribute even ‘three pence’ to support a church.” Giving taxpayer welfare to churches is especially egregious in the 21st century when they blatantly demonstrate hostility toward the separation of religion and government, attempt to impose moral superiority on issues such as abortion rights and marriage equality, and use Republicans to legislate bible dogmata on the people.

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The economic consequences to federal, state, and local governments of providing welfare for churches under forced taxpayer largesse was underestimated in July 2012 with a figure of roughly $71 billion annually, and that money would go a long way toward easing Republicans’ $85 billion sequester, or to fund jobs, education, Veterans services, and repairing America’s decrepit infrastructure. States and local communities are hardest hit by religious welfare because churches typically pay absolutely nothing in property taxes costing states $26.2 billion per year, and on top of clergy double-dipping on their personal income tax filings for parsonage allowance is another $1.2 billion annually in lost revenue the rest of the population is forced to pay. The practice is indeed a scandal that cannot continue and still claim federal, state, and local laws are not passed with respect to establishing religion by subsidizing them.

The biggest scandal regarding taxpayer funded religious entitlements is the growing practice of campaigning from the pulpit that is forbidden according to IRS rules, and yet every year there is a concerted effort by evangelical clergy blatantly campaigning, filming the violation, and sending the videos to the IRS daring them to take the punitive action of eliminating their tax exempt status. Last year, and for several years, in a flagrant violation of 501(c)(3) rules, over 1,600 preachers engaged in Pulpit Freedom Sunday and actively campaigned from the pulpit to challenge the IRS rules that allow them to leach money from taxpayers. According to a 2008 survey, 75% of Americans do not believe it is appropriate for churches to publicly endorse candidates for public office, or campaign from the pulpit, and yet the practice is increasing across America and across denominations, and the offenders are still reaping benefits as tax exempt religious organizations. This is one area that the IRS is not doing their due diligence and it is an affront to every American that follows IRS rules, does not cheat on their taxes, and pays to support government, the military, law enforcement, and every other service religious groups receive for free.

If Republicans need a scandal to rage over, this idea that churches are entitled to taxpayer dollars because religious organizations claim they are non-profits is beyond outrageous in a nation that is not a theocracy. It is increasingly impossible to believe churches are not making a profit when they buy prime real estate, build mega-churches, and employ multiple members of the clergy who are taking advantage of tax breaks regular Americans are prohibited from using, as well as using services the rest of the population funds and supports as citizens.

It is another example of the gross inequality rivaling the wealthy and their corporations avoiding paying their fair share while using taxpayer-funded services, and then expressing outrage because the people demand they contribute to this nation’s economy. America’s roads and bridges are crumbling, people are desperate for jobs, millions of Americans are falling into poverty, and while Republicans are cutting social programs because they claim the country is broke, they refuse to consider new revenue whether it is tax increases on the wealthy, or making churches pay their fair share and it is scandalous. Teabaggers are wont to complain they are “taxed enough already,” but nearly all Americans are “tithed enough already” and it is time to strip tax exemption from all churches and as Republicans are in the habit of preaching; “teach the welfare class to take personal responsibility” and start carrying their own weight.

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