Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt Status

marc stern mstern at
Thu Jun 3 08:20:02 PDT 2004

The IRS has spoken reasonably authoritatively about this in its training
manuals. By and large, unless the advocacy is express (vote against
candidate Q because of their stand on..) pronouncements on policy "in the
air" are not construed as endorsements. Otherwise all not for profits would
have to shut down every election season.

Marc Stern



From: religionlaw-bounces at
[mailto:religionlaw-bounces at] On Behalf Of Anthony Picarello
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 9:53 AM
To: Law & Religion issues for Law Academics
Subject: RE: Gay Activists Threaten Church Tax-Exempt Status


The "susbtantial" limit on lobbying does provide ample breathing room for
most religious institutions, including any bona fide house of worship I
could imagine.  And there's probably no limit on religious groups' advocacy
re moral issues, where the advocacy isn't also lobbying.


But there's no such latitude re advocacy for candidates, and we are, after
all, in an election year.  So I expect that the candidate part of the limit
will be asserted frequently in the months to come, and it could well
represent a meaningful threat.


-----Original Message-----
From: religionlaw-bounces at
[mailto:religionlaw-bounces at]On Behalf Of marc stern
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 9:44 AM
To: 'Law & Religion issues for Law Academics'
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.

Marc Stern 



From: religionlaw-bounces at
[mailto:religionlaw-bounces at] 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
Importance: Low


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

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