Opinion

Opinion

Editorial: Church endorsement of candidates? Fine, pay taxes like rest of us

Posted February 7

A CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017; Editorial# 8121
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

President Donald Trump’s promise to “totally destroy” a 60-year-old ban on tax-exempt houses of worship supporting political candidates has nothing to do with freedom of speech or religion.

It has everything to do with opening up another unfettered and unregulated avenue to pump billions into American politics. It is an invitation for corruption and destruction of the principle of church-state separation.

During the National Prayer Breakfast last week Trump said he’d seek to overturn the “Johnson Amendment,” a 1954 law that prohibits tax-exempt nonprofits including churches, synagogues and other places or worship, from “directly or indirectly” participating in a political candidate’s campaign.

A Republican-dominated Congress passed the law in 1954, signed by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. It was unanimously upheld in 1983 by a Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court in an opinion written by conservative Justice William Rehnquist.

Don’t be fooled, the issue is less about free speech and more about power and even more so, about money.

Today there is no law preventing a single religious leader in the United States from endorsing a candidate from the pulpit or campaigning in the sanctuary. But, if they do, the churches can’t also claim lucrative tax exemptions. The nation’s taxpayers shouldn’t be required to pay for a church’s campaigning for candidates through tax exemptions.

“A legislature’s decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe the right,” Rehnquist said in his 1983 court opinion.

This has been a hot-button issue for conservative Christian leaders, and Trump is now pandering to a well-financed portion of the Republican Party’s political base. Changing the law would open the door to some of the nation’s mega-churches and institutions like those run by Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham becoming super-PACs.

Not only would churches become a vehicle for political contributions – they would also be a tax-deductible pipeline into campaign treasuries. Imagine the clout of an organization with the ability to launder a tax-deductible donation into a political contribution.

The history of our nation and the heritage of the First Amendment isn’t exclusively the guarantee of the unfettered right of religious practice. It is just as significant that the government and religion are separate. That is the basis for our nation’s founding and a big reason why the first settlers from England sought refuge in America.

If religious organizations feel it is critical to become directly involved in politics, fine. But it would be a violation of our nation’s most basic principles to do it on the backs of taxpayers.

15 Comments

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  • John Townsend Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    One problem is what is going to be taxed? Some random church takes in money from donations and uses it to pay expenses and fund ministries, nobody is getting any profits so what do we tax? Do you want to go down the rat hole of putting the IRS in charge of auditing churches and deciding what expenses are allowed and what ministries are allowed?
    .
    And we haven't even gotten into the freedom arguments. Why should a person be forced by government not to participate in politics just because they are running a church? Does this apply to Deacons or church elders or are clergy the only ones muzzled?
    .
    Leaving aside churches and such, do non-profit news organizations have different tax status if they endorse a candidate for office?

  • Karen Orndorff Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    AMEN

  • James Grimes Jr. Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    Organisations, religious or otherwise, shouldn't be tax exempt. Tax them all.

  • Karen Orndorff Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    Who is the CBC? And who cares what your opinion is? My church would never endorse a candidate anyway.

  • Johnathan Doe Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    the churches can just say paying taxes is the law they choose to ignore...

    say, like illegals ignoring our laws.

  • Johnathan Doe Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    the churches can just say paying taxes is the law they choose to ignore...

    say, like illegals ignoring our laws.

  • John Smith Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    Well, the Dems are once again the biggest culprits. I've been to several predominantly black churches where candidates were there speaking (soliciting votes). I've seen bussing from those same churches to polls. Heck, G.K. Butterfield was at Spring St. Missionary Baptist in Henderson not long ago. The only "white" churches I've seen endorsements from the pulpit were liberal churches....but I'm sure it happens in some others. Like others said, WRAL needs to start with their favorite "Rev" whom they love to chase after with cameras.

  • Walter Greene Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    Like most of the commenters so far, I think it's about time the playing field is leveled. As long as the NAACP and organizations like it remain tax-exempt, there is no excuse for policing right-leaning religious organizations. It's hypocrisy, plain and simple. And Hillary Clinton and the Democrats purposefully set out to take down the traditional beliefs of Catholicism, so why would they not be allowed to speak out from the pulpit against it?

  • Richard Evans Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    Correct, but not far enough. Any 503 and 504 n-profit organization should be clear of politics. That would also include: All the AME Zion, other and Independent churches that had an "Obama" placard of any description in their front yards at any time the last 8 years, as well as the NAACP of NC and US; using this same 'expansive' definition of political activity in this editorial. So every dollar donated to the NAACP should be taxed, and all the churches that have political signs displayed of any type and any time also. Further, if the churches organize voter registration drives, get out the vote drives, or use of church vehicles to get voters to the polls; that is also a n-profit acting in a political manner. (Not to mention the print outs given of 'sample ballots' telling HOW to vote...) Now, WRAL, how do you like your position, now?

  • Paul Gemborys Jr Feb 7, 2017
    user avatar

    Fact is there are churches that are political machines and getting away with it while other churches follow the rules, Trump sees through this charade.

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