Everyone knows -- or should know -- that for churches to retain their tax-exempt status they have to stay out of politics. For some strange reason, though, the IRS isn't doing anything to make sure that this rule is being followed. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the IRS to force them to enforce the law.
Internal Revenue Service
According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation, churches -- particularly conservative churches and conservative religious organizations -- have become more and more involved in political campaigns. It's being involved in politics that's the problem, it's being involved in political campaigns.
American Atheists is also suing over the fact that religious groups have an easier time getting and maintaining tax-exempt status. Secular groups have to do more work and pay more money than churches -- and why? The reason may be what links both of these issues together: a bias in favor of religious groups and against secular groups.
The lawsuit cites full-page ads run this fall in the New York Times and other newspapers by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association that featured a photo of renowned evangelist Billy Graham urging Americans to vote along biblical principles. Graham met in October with Mitt Romney and pledged to do "all I can" to help the Republican presidential nominee.
The lawsuit also refers to an order from Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., requiring all the priests in his diocese to read a statement urging Catholics to vote and stating that, "Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord."
The lawsuit also refers to "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," a national event on Oct. 7 in which more than 1,500 pastors endorsed a candidate from the pulpit and then sent a record of their statement to the IRS, hoping their challenge would eventually end up in court.
"Religious organizations and churches are treated differently from secular organizations," explained American Atheists National Legal Director Edwin Kagin. "The exemptions are applied in a way that discriminates solely on the basis of whether an entity's members express beliefs and practices accepted as religious. The IRS treats your organization better if you profess belief in a supernatural deity."
The lawsuit also covers discrepancies in how secular and religious organizations are treated in maintaining their tax-exempt statuses. Secular nonprofits complete Form 990 annually, which details information about finances, donors, volunteers, and personnel; the IRS estimates it requires 211 hours to complete the Form 990, which is then public information. Religious nonprofits are exempted from filing the Form 990, so there is no public record about their finances, donors, volunteers, or personnel.
"The IRS hands religious organizations a fundraising advantage," Silverman said. "It puts American Atheists at a significant disadvantage when it comes to fundraising because many Americans choose not to reveal their atheism for fear of prejudice and discrimination."
Source: American Atheists
What do you suppose the chances are that the IRS will amend its policies and regulations in order to level the playing field between secular and religious groups? It doesn't require an act of Congress to achieve that -- it's all on the IRS and their rules here. They have a lot of latitude to change those rules to achieve the goals Congress requires of them.
So the IRS could change these rules tomorrow, if they want, and actually start enforcing the law. Will they?
And what about the rules they already have in place -- what are the chances that they will start enforcing them properly?