Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt Status
marty.lederman at comcast.net
Thu Jun 3 07:08:31 PDT 2004
Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt StatusThis appears to be the hot-button issue of the day, what with today's New York Times front-page story about Bush's attempt to use churches for electioneering (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/03/politics/campaign/03CHUR.html?hp), and the recent contretemps concerning Bishop Sheridan's politicking (see http://www.au.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6675&abbr=pr&JServSessionIdr012=rx1ae42ab1.app7b&security=1002&news_iv_ctrl=1241).
In addition to Marc Stern's point, I'd add that it's long struck me as odd that this is viewed as a serious constitutional issue. All nonprofits that wish to receive the tax benefit, religious and secular, churches and other entities, are limited in the amount of electioneering they can do. If there's a problem with this condition, it's a policy, not a constitutional, concern (see, e.g., Regan), and is not limited to churches. Even pre-Smith, any Free Exercise claim would have been on extremely weak ground (on "substantial burden" grounds, primarily); and post-Smith, it's difficult to see what the claim would be. Moreover, if the IRS were to allow churches, but not secular nonprofits, to use tax benefits to engage in electioneering, that would be a fairly straightforward Free Speech violation (giving a religious preference w/r/t to core political expression), and would raise serious Establishment Clause questions, as well. As Chip Lupu has written w/r/t this tax-exemption, "the area of political activity is one in which the claim to the constitutional uniqueness of religion is unusually weak, and the claim to equal participation by all is unusually strong."
Having said that, I should note that Rick Garnett and Steffen Johnson advanced serious arguments against the condition in the July 2001 Boston College Law Review. Although I haven't read those pieces in a while, I recall thinking that they were quite formidable, if ultimately unpersuasive to this reader.
----- Original Message -----
From: marc stern
To: 'Law & Religion issues for Law Academics'
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 9:44 AM
Subject: RE: Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt Status
There really is nothing to the threat. Churches are free to take stands on political issues provided they do not spend a "substantial" amount on these activities. The late Dean Kelly obtained an internal IRS memo which indicted that insubstantial was between 5-20% of an organization's budget. The document was informal and would not bind the IRS, but it describes a fairly safe harbor. Non-church groups can opt for a different and more predictable set of rules, but at the behest of churches which then insisted that the government could not stop them from advocating for legislation at the expense of exemption, churches were not offered the option.
From: religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu [mailto:religionlaw-bounces at lists.ucla.edu] On Behalf Of Francis Beckwith
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 8:16 AM
To: Religion Law Mailing List
Subject: Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt Status
Just got this from a friend. It is published by "Focus on the Family," a conservative Christian outfit in Colorado Springs.
June 1, 2004
Church's Tax-Exempt Status Threatened
by Steve Jordahl, correspondent
Pro-homosexual group lodges complaint with the state against a Montana church that aired the "Battle for Marriage" satellite broadcast.
A Montana church, one of hundreds across the country to broadcast a pro-marriage TV special on May 23, has been threatened by a gay-activists group with removal of its tax-exempt status.
Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church in Helena showed congregants "The Battle for Marriage" - a video simulcast featuring Focus on the Family Chairman Dr. James Dobson and other pro-family leaders - and circulated a petition at the event calling for a state constitutional amendment supporting traditional marriage. Those actions rankled the gay-activist group Montanans for Family and Fairness, which lodged a complaint with the state's Commission of Political Practices.
The complaint alleges that what the church did "may . have implications for an organization's tax status." The commission has said it will investigate, but Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) attorney Gary McCaleb said the argument is without merit.
"The letter that was sent out by these far-left activists is outrageous," McCaleb said. "I think it's defamatory, and it's certainly an intolerant effort to suppress free speech."
Canyon Pastor B.G. Stumberg said his church is not intimidated. The commission is unable to affect a church's tax-exempt status on its own, but a decision against the church is the first step in stripping a congregation of its tax benefits.
"I don't think it's scaring us at all," he said. "It's sort of galvanized us, in one sense, (and) I think everybody's sort of saying, 'OK, let's go.' "
The letter was also sent to several hundred other Montana churches, an obvious attempt to make them think twice about addressing the issue of gay marriage. McCaleb said churches should press ahead, anyway.
"You certainly don't convert your church into a political committee," he explained, "when you speak out in favor of marriage."
The ADF, McCaleb added, would be happy to consult with any church that has questions.
Copyright © 2004 Focus on the Family
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
(800) A-FAMILY (232-6459)
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