Throughout history, masses of people developed governments and standardized rules to maintain order and protect citizens of a society from anarchy and lawlessness, and although there are exceptions, most reasonable human beings agree that without some degree of discipline and punitive action for lawbreakers, society would break down. In America, it is nearly impossible to imagine a criminal walking into a local police station armed with a machine gun and bank bag full of cash to inform the desk sergeant they had just committed armed robbery and dare law enforcement to arrest and prosecute them. As bizarre as that scenario sounds, there are a growing number of Americans who are robbing their fellow taxpayers, breaking the law, and daring an enforcement agency to prosecute them with impunity, and they are doing it under authority of Christian religious freedom with regularity and on a schedule. However, despite their god-book sensibilities, the law is the law, and in a nation of laws and equality, it is time to prosecute them with extreme prejudice to force them to abide by the law like every other American.
According to IRS rules for a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, a church cannot act “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office” without jeopardizing their church’s tax-exempt status. However, that rule does not stop Pastor Jim Garlow from standing before true believers at his Skyline Wesleyan Church in California on October 7 prior to the U.S. presidential and congressional elections to urge his flock to vote for, or against, particular candidates. Not only does Garlow anticipate breaking the law, he intends on recruiting many other preachers to join him in an exercise, Pulpit Freedom Sunday, which has been going on since 2008. Last year alone, 539 preachers joined Garlow in flaunting their blatant disregard for the law to force the issue before the courts as a freedom of religion and speech issue in what he calls “the next great awakening to see it just sweep across this nation.” How fitting that a Christian preacher is enlisting countless other religious leaders to break the law to demonstrate their disregard for the Constitution’s Separation of Church and State clause in the 1ST Amendment while they rob American taxpayers and their communities of desperately needed funds.
Because churches are exempt from filing financial statements with the IRS like every other tax-exempt non-profit, rough estimates are that combined federal tax breaks on donations to churches and exemptions from state and local property taxes most likely add up to approximately $25 billion in lost revenue each year. For example, in New York City, roughly 9,500 churches, temples, and mosques avoided paying over $626 million in property taxes this year because they operate as tax-free institutions, and as communities across the country are struggling financially and laying off teachers, police officers, firefighters, and maintenance workers (something Willard Romney approves of), it is a travesty that religious leaders like Garlow are thumbing their noses at the law that allows them to suck much-needed revenue from taxpayers and communities with impunity.
One might think, erroneously, that Christians would expect their leaders to follow the law and be grateful that they do not have to support their communities because they talk about god, but there is a feeling of entitlement under the guise of religious freedom that inspires them to drain $25 billion of taxpayer money and still campaign from the pulpit as if they are above the law. As an aside, when Jesus Christ was queried by Pharisees whether they should, or should not, pay taxes to Caesar (government), Christ responded “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar” (Mark 12:17), so it is sinful that Christian preachers proceed campaigning with flagrant disregard for the law after they are given a free pass on contributing to the government and communities with the condition they refrain from campaigning from the pulpit.
Although this Pulpit Freedom Sunday has been going on for three years, the event has taken on new dimensions with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and particularly President Obama’s requirement that contraception be covered in health plans as part of regular health maintenance for women and families. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the religious right are at the forefront of a movement to impose their religious beliefs on all Americans through their political activism and influence with Republicans in Congress. According to Cardinal Francis George, “The first principle is that American citizens don’t lose their freedom of religion or their freedom of expression,” but as has been noted myriad times, religious freedom has come to mean forcing adherence to their religious dogmata on the entire country. The IRS rules do not restrict religious leaders from expressing or practicing their religion as they please, but it does restrict them from campaigning for political candidates from the pulpit.
One Catholic Bishop followed preacher Garlow’s lead in April when he gave a sermon that asserted President Obama, “with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda seemed to be on an anti-Catholic path similar to Hitler and Stalin,” and it inspired him to exhort “all Catholics to vote their Catholic consciences” this fall. It is the type of campaigning that is a violation of the 501(c)(3) charitable organization rules to maintain their taxpayer welfare, and the ingrates still thumb their noses at the simple requirement because their bastardized version of religious freedom supplants the law of the land.
This issue is not about religious freedom or liberty like Catholics, Christians, and Mormons claim, it is a civic issue and religious leaders like Garlow are shirking their civic duty to follow a simple requirement in order to leech taxpayer dollars and use law enforcement, fire protection, roads, and schools that American taxpayers fund. What is interesting and demonstrates the brazen attitude of many religious leaders was a Pew research study that discovered most parishioners preferred their religious leaders avoid electioneering; Catholics were the most adamant. As a former Christian minister, this author can attest that most religious adherents go to church for spiritual instruction and direction, and not to hear a campaign stump speech.
There are only two options available to stop men like Garlow and his ilk from breaking the law; either the IRS strip their tax-exempt status forthwith, or end taxpayer welfare to religious organizations altogether. There is no reason for any church, preacher, bishop, priest, or religion to avoid paying the same property, state or federal taxes like every other American. There are even special rules the IRS has to follow to audit or investigate a church’s finances, and yet any taxpayer is subject to a thorough IRS audit for any reason. Why do religious organizations merit special treatment? They provide nothing to their communities that taxpayers like community volunteers, school teachers, police officers, or firefighters provide every day without special tax exemptions. It is time to end this sick, twisted obeisance to religion in America and get on with the business of a nation of laws that are equally enforced, because at the rate the country is proceeding toward rule by religious edict, it will not be long before the Constitution is replaced with a Christian bible or a book of Mormon, and the law of the land will be meted out by a religious fanatic. The 21st century Crusade is under way and no thinking human being would have thought it would begin in what is rapidly becoming a Theocratic Republic of America by men who are above the law, the Constitution, and the government as if they are god.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.