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 audits — we’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.