Today is Pulpit Freedom Sunday, When Christian Pastors Dare the IRS to Revoke Their Tax-Exemption

The biggest IRS scandal is the one virtually no one is talking about: How churches that pay no taxes in return for not endorsing political candidates are breaking those rules openly and receiving no punishment at all. (Some pastors even sent the IRS videos of their sermons.)

It happens on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” — and today, more than 1,000 pastors are expected to participate. Since there’s no presidential candidate to endorse, they’re speaking about why the congregation should oppose marriage equality:

An actual church sign

The Bible has not changed. God’s Word remains true that homosexual behavior is wrong and that marriage is as God Himself defined it in the beginning pages of Scripture — between one man and one woman only. Public opinion cannot change Truth. But Truth must be proclaimed to be believed and adopted. And that is where your role as a pastor comes in.

Obviously, many churches already do this all the time so it’s not quite at the level of endorsing candidates, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for the IRS. They have plenty of reason to go after these churches already.

Last October, more than 1,500 pastors told their congregations to vote for someone (presumably Mitt Romney). As I said before, the main reason the IRS won’t take action is due to bureaucracy. A “high-level” employee has to authorize the audits and no one is currently in position to do that. The IRS isn’t rushing to fill the spot, either.

As Rev. Barry Lynn wrote for the Huffington Post, this is a problem for ethical as well as economical reasons:

If the IRS wants to be more aggressive and crack down on law-breakers, it need not spend time subjecting Tea Party groups to extra scrutiny because someone decides their names raise red flags or an official frets that they might possibly step over some political lines.

That’s all theoretical. Meanwhile, there are houses of worship breaking the law right now by endorsing or opposing candidates. That’s not theoretical. They are doing it. And they’re doing it openly.

It appears that officials at the IRS can’t get motivated to work resolving an actual problem and are instead spending time embroiling themselves in embarrassing scandals. Perhaps it’s time to bring in some people who not only understand the law but are willing to enforce it.

By not taking action, the government is missing out on upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars that these churches are throwing away by participating in this event. The IRS can’t be afraid to go after groups that break the law, even if they are churches.

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.

  • Anna

    Presumably Mitt Romney? Maybe the white evangelical churches, but there are also probably a lot of black churches who told their congregations to vote for Obama. I say let them have their free speech and let’s tax exempt only those money’s used toward things like soup kitchens or housing the poor. Let hem be taxed on everything else like a business.

    • unclemike

      “…but there are also probably a lot of…”

      Yeah, well, except that there is plenty of evidence of white evangelical churches specifically endorsing candidate Romney, and no evidence I’ve seen of black churches specifically endorsing Obama. Other than in your “probably.”

    • Houndentenor

      There’s a lot of this all around. For a a long time we gave some extra leeway for African American churches because at one time it was about the only places (especially in the south) in which black people were allowed to congregate. The civil rights movement HAD to develop out of the churches. they weren’t allowed to have anything else. That’s no longer true, and it’s really time for the exception to end. Democrats regularly appear in majority black churches to give what are unquestionably political speeches. If we are going to say anything about Evangelicals endorsing candidates, we have to be fair in pointing out that the Democrats have their own version of this. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it flaunts the same rules and is equally unacceptable.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Tax the Churches!

    • baal

      Well, not anymore so or in any way different from other NGO / not-for-prophet orgs.

  • Goape

    If we could just explain to religious fundamentalists and their respective spiritual organisations that their tax money would be a real boon to education, healthcare, safety net programs, transportation, research and national defence then I’m sure they would agree that churches should be taxed.

    • Goape

      Fucking HTML. You get the idea anyway.

      • RobMcCune

        You’re looking for the ” tag

        • Goape

          Thanks Rob.

        • TCC

          Protip: If you want to show someone how to do a tag without actually creating the tag, use &lt; and &gt; for the carets (like so: <tagname>).

  • pierre

    What is it that churches participating in Pulpit Freedom Sunday want, exactly? They want to be able to publicly endorse political candidates without losing their tax-exempt status? But then, what’s the point if the IRS isn’t auditing any of them over it?

    If anything, they’re just strengthening the case for removing the tax-exempt status for churches, period.

    • JDM

      They want to be seen as martyrs.

  • ElrictheMad

    With their current scandal over the enhanced scrutiny for tea party and other groups seeking non-profit status, the IRS is even less likely to stick their neck out now to enforce the law because they know it will be unpopular.

    • meekinheritance

      Because the IRS is known as being popular.
      By selectively enforcing the law, aren’t they endorsing the misbehavior?

    • edb3803

      And the bad part is that this current uproar about the IRS is a faux scandal, created by the conservatives and fueled by the media invoking false equivalence.
      But I agree with you that the IRS is now even less likely to do anything about these churches.

  • Ani J. Sharmin

    This is one of the clearest examples of special treatment for religious groups, especially majority religious groups. They break the law, openly state they are breaking the law — including sending the evidence to the authorities — and still don’t get in trouble for it.

    • Billy Bob

      Then they’ll turn around and scream about how they are the most persecuted group in the country.

      • Octoberfurst

        That’s what makes me the most angry. These idiots are just salivating over the idea of the IRS trying to take away their tax exemption because they WANT to be seen as martyers. They WANT to be able to scream “Persecution!” and rush to Fox News, CBN and all other right-wing outlets to whine about how the big bad Obama administration is attacking Christians. I’m so sick of these freakin’ morons! The media & government coddle them but they pretend they are the most oppressed group in America. What a bunch of crybabies!

  • good_creon

    See?!?!? The fact that can get away with this proves how persecuted Christians are in this country!

    • Houndentenor

      Exactly. this nonsense that Christians are being persecuted needs to be publicly ridiculed. No other type of nonprofit organization could get away with openly flaunting the rules, but nothing is going to happen to these churches precisely because officials know that they will scream persecution if they are so much as sent a form to fill out about this. they should lose their tax exempt status since they are aware of the rule and are willfully breaking it. But it’s not going to happen. Another special exception for Christians.

      • Rob McClain

        You meant to say “flout” the rules. To flout is to show contempt or scorn, as these churches are doing. To flaunt is to have an open exhibit or parade. Were the pastor to climb into convertibles and have a parade wherein they flaunted the large sums of cash they get to keep by flouting the rules, that would exemplify flaunting. I know, Eff me.

        • Feminerd

          They can flaunt their flouting of the rules, though :)

          • Jeff

            And we in turn can flout their flaunting.

      • blah

        Uhm….but not every church does this. My pastor taught on Ecclesiastes and has NEVER made a political statement from the pulpit.

        • Houndentenor

          No one said they did. I was in a church last Sunday (working…I am a professional musician) and there was not a peep about politics. I don’t expect the Congregation would be too pleased if there were as I suspect that not all of them would have been in agreement with what the minister’s political views are (whatever that might be…I have no clue). Many churches don’t do this, especially the mainstream Protestant denominations and I think the lack of consensus in the congregation is probably the main reason why. But obviously there was intent for some (already highly political churches to flout the law (did I use that correctly this time?). Kudos to those who did not. I suspect they are the majority.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    The GOP would slam it as a scandal and say that the IRS and the Obama administration is only targeting churches because of their beliefs.

  • raerants

    Satanists believe that all churches, including their own, ought to be
    taxed. I wish I knew what the Unitarian Universalist stance was.

    • Mykey

      Last I checked the UU churches refuse to endorse/oppose anything political that doesn’t relate to legislation that would impact the UU church itself.

  • Renshia

    Someone please remind me, why we shouldn’t force a faith test on all professing christians again.

  • Fujikoma

    The issue is that the lower I.R.S. functionaries CANNOT deal with this on their own as they could with other organizations. This is a special case for religious organizations only because a higher up I.R.S. employee has to initiate an investigation. This part, of the tax law dealing with non-profits, needs to be changed before they can be dealt with equally.

    • baal

      Let’s be clear, the Republicans (with some Democratic votes) passed a law requiring a certain position in the IRS to sign off on enforcement against churches for violations of their tax exempt status. They then wrote another law that said no congressional funds could be used to pay someone to fill that position. It’s sly, dishonest and underhanded. They should have been open about what they wanted and passed a law that said, “Christians, especially evangelicals must never pay any tax even though other religions and orgs are so forced.”


    Get ‘em!

  • rob

    totally wrong for any church to endorse or oppose any candidate from the pulpit. tax those churches. but do you know who has more tax expent money than the churches, and quite readily pushes a poltical party? colleges. tax churches. tax schools. no one should be tax exempt. i don’t get the idea that some “ideas” are worthy of being tax exempt, and other “ideas” should be taxed. make all ideas equal. secular and religious. tax all things equally.

    • Richard Thomas

      If you don’t understand the difference between a church and a school then I don’t really know what to say.

  • scoutsadie
  • Lalu

    This is too idiotic. Churches don’t need to become 501c3 tax exempt b/c they have that status de-facto. In fact, they already are tax exempt. Mosques, Temples, and churches do not need this. In fact the government says it is unnecessary. Besides not supporting political candidates this status keeps them from talking about certain subjects as well. A church doesn’t need to be 501c3 to be official. Those pastors should have read the fine print when they signed those contracts. They would have known that the government now OWNED them and CAN arrest them. This is not a religious persecution thing or freedom of speech thing. They would have been better off not signing the contract.