Why the IRS Isn’t Going After Candidate-Endorsing Churches

Last week, I posted about this church sign at Leakey, Texas’ The Church in the Valley and wondered why the IRS wasn’t doing anything about it — or the whole “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” idea, for that matter:

A few of you dropped me notes explaining why — because, as it turns out, there is a reason the IRS isn’t investigating these egregious violations of church/state separation.

Short answer: Bureaucracy.

Long answer: It’s complicated… but here’s Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra at Christianity Today explaining the biggest issue:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has officially halted tax audits of churches until it can adopt rules that clarify which high-level employee has the authority to initiate them.

“We are holding any potential church audits in abeyance,” Russell Renwicks of the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division told BNA.com this week.

While this is the first public announcement of the moratorium, the IRS hasn’t been auditing churches since 2009, said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly the Alliance Defense Fund).

No one seems to know why the IRS hasn’t changed its regulations to allow another position to approve the audits, or why IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman hasn’t been approving church audits in the interim. Shulman will step down November 9, the end of his five-year term.

“This is absolutely the worst time for the IRS to be taking a step back,” [Rob Boston, senior policy analyst for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State,] said. “The agency needs to resolve this matter and move forward with enforcement. If they fail to do that, we’re only going to see more flagrant violations of the law.”

I agree completely with Boston — this is the government basically throwing up their hands and saying, “We don’t need the extra money!” If the IRS puts someone in charge of these audits — just these auditswe’re talking about 1,586 churches (PDF) who openly defied the law. If they want to play politics, they owe the government — us — taxes. The IRS is ignoring untold millions of dollars of income that should be in their coffers because they can’t get someone to sign on the dotted line.

They need to fix this problem immediately or else, like Boston said, the problems only going to get worse. We can’t trust Christians to do the right thing on their own. We need to put legal pressure on these churches.

On a side note, check out the comment by Austin Miles at the Christianity Today page if you want a good laugh… or cry.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Austin Miles at the Christianity Today page is either the worlds greatest poe, or retarded.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, Blonde

    the IRS isn’t really interested in raising revenue. they are more interested in harassing people and squeezing the little people for all they are worth. if revenue were important, the IRS would have far, far more agents focused on the rich 1% many of whom barely pay taxes or even blatantly don’t pay them, and corporations doing to same. instead, a huge portion of the workforce at the IRS goes after people who owe, by comparison, tiny amounts. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    They only go after LEFT-wing churches who advocate for Democrats.  Right-wing/conservative churches always get a pass.

  • http://twitter.com/RinnosukeETQW Jeff Simons

    I think he may be both.

  • Isilzha

    Sounds like someone in the IRS has an agenda.  We need some accountability!

  • Kevin

    For what it’s worth …  http://kevinchilds.com/?p=5499

  • Kevin

    Name some. I’ve NEVER heard of a single predominately African-American church getting a sniff from the IRS. And many of those churches have been outspokenly politicking for years.

  • Question Everything

    Well, he claims to be Rev. Austin Miles in his sig… not sure if that makes him a paid Poe, a liar, or what.

  • 3lemenope

    Yes they have an agenda, but I think from one end that agenda begins and ends with successfully keeping one’s head down and CYA. When modern Republicans control the bureaucracy, they have no interest in pursuing churches for obvious reasons. When modern Democrats do, they have no interest in pursuing churches because they calculate, I think depressingly correctly, that it would cause far more trouble than it would solve on a purely pragmatic political level; it would energize religious Republicans electorally while simultaneously driving a wedge in the Democratic coalition.

    Now, I don’t think that that alone is a good enough reason not to do it, but because of the peculiarities of electoral politics always means that down the road someone you don’t like will hold the reigns of power, if all it achieves is a Dem loss followed by the GOP controlling the IRS, what good would picking the fight actually do? To make a move like this, the prerequisite is much more public support than the notion has now. That means organizations both advocating and educating the public on the issue.

  • Mjy1945

    Watching right wing Christianity taking over America is like watching an oil tanker heading towards a reef. I know it’s going to be a disaster, but I’m glad I’m here to see it happen.

  • rg57

    A president that (contrary to Bill Maher’s recent claims) still has a White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships probably isn’t all that motivated to prod the IRS into enforcing the law in this regard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.westley Brian Westley

    If this continues to go nowhere, the FFRF ought to create a secular church like the Ethical Culture Society and blatantly use it to raise tax-free donations for political advocacy.

  • rg57

     You like oil spills and the destruction of reefs?

  • http://chaoskeptic.blogspot.com Rev. Ouabache

     It looks like he is real.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    No one seems to know why the IRS hasn’t changed its regulations to allow another position to approve the audits, or why IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman hasn’t been approving church audits in the interim.

    As the French say, “Cherchez la fondie!”  Start with the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division and work your way up the IRS hierarchy to find just one or two fundies who have been doing the bureaucratic two-step to stall the execution of these audits.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger?feature=mhee GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    What if some non-profit organization small enough to risk it would send the IRS a CD/DVD showing TWO examples on the SAME submitted DVD: one showing a preacher from Pulpit Sunday violating the tax rules by endorsing a candidate, and then a SECULAR non-profit organization using the SAME wording to ALSO endorse a candidate.

    It would be interesting to see if the IRS would go after the secular group but not the religious one.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Look, I told you before what the problem is: Obama is afraid of the Christofascists and refuses to take them on. He’s intimidated by them. He has been since he took office. In virtually every possible way, he’s caved in to them every time they’ve pitched a fit.

    Arguably he did stand up to them over healthcare reform, and prevailed … but only to a point. The reform bill he finally managed to get through was considerably diluted. The Christofascists still kvetch and moan about it, but in the end they authored a great deal of that law.

    It’s scary, but it’s true: The Religious Right runs this country … in spite of the fact that a Democrat whom the R.R. despises passionately is in the Oval Office. They run the show, and will continue to do so, unless Obama wins next month, and suddenly grows a pair.

  • http://twitter.com/ReasJack Jack Jesberger

    This sounds like a purposeful strategy to avoid the issue.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Hey, if they’re just going to ignore it, I say we start abusing it too. Best case outcome, the hypocrites start screaming about it, a secular group gets investigated, and it gives us enough substance to take these stallers to court and make them do their jobs. 

  • Greg Gay

    The fundy IRS officials who refuse to investigate churches are like the fundy pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth-control for religious reasons.

  • akak907

    I’m more concerned with the fact that whoever put together that list of churches apparently thinks that proper alphabetcal order is Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona.  Now THAT’S scary.

  • tyocom

    Those with the means of political intimidation, or good legal help, are the least likely to be prosecuted.  The more they are indulged, the greater their demand for impunity.  Pandering to the religious has proven to be like feeding a tiger cub.  Eventually it will have its provider for lunch. 

    Until non-believers’ numbers and votes are recognized, there will never be enforced legal equality.  That much is clear from the current unequal enforcement.  Abandonment of free money and ever-growing political power will never come from the goodness of the church.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Trouble is, you have to have a 501 (c) (3) status to start with. Three guys who meet in a basement to play pool and talk about atheism will likely be refused.

    You’re going to have to find a pretty feisty group to have them want to put their charitable status on the line.

  • Isilzha

    It’s a great suggestion.  So, is anyone doing such a thing?

  • Stev84

     A paid liar

  • Stev84

     Their agenda is to save themselves. The Republicans have already slashed their budget in recent years. If they went after churches there would be immediate political backlash

  • Michael
  • machintelligence

    It works if you use the two letter postal abbreviations AK AL AR AZ.

  • rlrose328

    No one wants to take responsibility because no one wants to be seen as a Christian-hater.  Then there will be more lawsuits, etc., and no one wants that (well, WE do but no one in the government does).  It doesn’t matter if the final result will be more money for the government… the outlay of money for lawsuits, etc., will be far worse.

    Again, they are afraid of the outcry of Christian persecution.

  • Troglodyke

    Maybe they go after “the little people” because “the little people” don’t have loads of money to hire attorneys to argue for them. The rich do, and the IRS will spend more $$ in court to get the money owed. “The little people” freak out whn they are audited, and probably cough up the dough without much of a fight. So, the “sure money” is on the “little people.”

  • Robster

    Surely the government would welcome an opportunity to pay down the c00000000.3% of the federal debt that would otherwise not be paid?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1404879397 Russell Gibbons

    as long as they are not naming a candidate they are not breaking the laws concerning tax exempt entities