Editorial: Keep politics out of the pulpit


Publisher’s note: This editorial is from the Aug. 7, 2014, Los Angeles Times.

Under federal law, it is illegal for churches and other so-called 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations to “participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” But in recent years the Internal Revenue Service has failed to aggressively enforce the law, despite open defiance by religious groups that believe — erroneously — that they have a 1st Amendment right to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status.

That soon may change. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which had sued the IRS seeking to require it to enforce the law, says it has reached an agreement with the IRS under which the agency has adopted procedures for “reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations.”

IRS investigation of political activity by nonprofits has been complicated by allegations that the agency improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups that sought tax exemptions; those allegations are the subject of a congressional probe. But that is no reason for the agency to stall on scrutinizing politicking by churches.

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Comments (12)
  1. cosa pescado says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Imagine a country that doesn’t need to address this problem.
    A country that realizes that the one true god has noodly appendages that can touch all people. A people who live their lives knowing that the after life is a VIP pass to a volcano full of strippers. And accept that the warming of the planet is cause by our denigration of pirates.
    A people who accept the mastery of carbohydrates, and use them wisely.

  2. Old Long Skiis says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    cosa pescado, Being a firm believer in The Flying Spaghetti Monster(FSM), I appreciate your letter about the cause for global warming being attributed to the public denigration of pirates.
    I’ve been a “pastafarian” for several years now and know the true love of pasta!
    Thanks for the morning chuckle! OLS (AARRHH, said in a pirate tone) ramen

  3. Dogula says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Jeremiah Wright. Reverend Jesse Jackson. Reverend Al Sharpton.
    I certainly hope the IRS plans to look at those ‘men of the cloth’ as closely as they do at conservative Christian pastors.

  4. Gus says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Let’s not forget the all the stalwart American preachers, priests, and rabbis thrown into prison by the British because they preached without a government license. Requiring religious institutions to obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status is an insult to liberty that WOULD NOT have been tolerated by the Founders. The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s goal isn’t to just control religion in this country, rather they want to destroy free speech and all questioning of government. Religious communities in this country are already looking over their shoulders at big, powerful…and fearful government; but it is really organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation who operate out of fear and distrust of anyone who thinks differently from themselves. They have the most to lose when light is shed on their schemes. (That’s my preaching for the day – go ahead and tax me!)

  5. Rick says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Nice try Dog: Wright (a Marine Corp vet) is the only one of three you mentioned who had a congregation. Jackson and Sharp are Civil Rights activist. You may or may not like them, and while they are “ministers” (meaning they have the title bestowed on them by what ever process their christian denomination has, they are not practicing ministers.

    But more to the point, places of worship (regardless of their political leanings) are not suppose to engage in the political realm, if they wish to enjoy tax exempt status. Now they can give that up and preach all the politics they want. So I am comfortable coming down hard on all religious institutions that are tax exempt if they cross the political lines.


  6. reloman says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    all the ministers have to do is step down off the pulpet, and say personnally i support so n so. its the church that doesnt have freedom of speach, not the minister, they have the same rights as you and i to support who ever they like, just cant say it as if the church was supporting. Sorry people as much as many on this board would like, they can still speak thier minds.

  7. Gus says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Rick – So how, exactly, do you propose to enforce limits on speech in religious institutions? Insert spies and IRS agents into all places of worship or congregation? Are tax-exempt seminaries allowed to teach politics as part of their curriculum, or is this subversive? Would you yank 501(c)(3) status for, say, registering minorities to vote? Would you prohibit ministers who hold public office (not uncommon in the past) from speaking in church? Would you withdraw tax-exempt status from a church who read a bible passage unflattering to the state (“…render unto Caesar…”). And do tell, how did you conclude that places of worship “are not supposed to engage in the political realm?” When exactly did government reserve “realms” of speech to themselves when government, under our constitution, is granted powers from the people and NOT the other way around?

  8. Rick says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Gus: Well, we can strip all religious institutions of tax exempt status (throw the baby out with the bath water) or we can simply rely on the standard way of doing things based on investigating complaints of churches/mosques/synagogue, etc. and other simple approaches. For example, many of the political functions that some churches (evangelical – appears to be the biggest violator) that famously put their sermons on-line.

    Not hard to do at all.


  9. go figure says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    My son wants to worship the pasta god daily but I tend to enforce the less is better, throw in a few carrot sermons…he is skeptical however he follows the law of the household with grace…

  10. rock4tahoe says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Dog. Please read this again, “participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

    And yes, we have the 1st Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” to keep Religion away from our Government for a very good reason…. King George III.

  11. copper says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    OLS: Ramen, bro! Cosa too.

  12. Gus says - Posted: August 19, 2014

    Rick: To quote Voltaire, with irony intended considering the source: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” (Contineo Evangelicals?)

    It seems to me that selective (tax) law enforcement, as you propose, is dangerous and open to abuse. Who knows how many tyrants are waiting in our future to seize this strategy and make examples out of churches, families and friends; or how many Lois Lerners there are waiting to pounce on you or me? In a republic, a little tyranny is too much tyranny.