Pulpit Freedom Sunday may not have prevented the Obama re-election, but it seems to have had at least one effect: getting the Secular Coalition agitated. They are now calling for increased IRS scrutiny of the church:
Specifically, the Coalition is asking that two exemptions are removed from the tax code. The two provisions are 26 USC §6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) and (C)(i) which exempts churches, their integrated auxiliaries and exclusively religious activities from the requirement to file an annual return-something every other organization exempt from taxation must do-and 26 USC § 7611, which includes five pages of restrictions on the IRS’s ability to investigate churches engaged in activity that would void a 501c3 tax exemption.
No doubt the Secular Coalition wonders why churches should continue to be able to violate the tax code and, moreover, see the tax exemption as tantamount to subsidizing political activism with which they may disagree. And apparently they aren’t alone:
A July 2012 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 66 percent of Americans believe churches or other houses of worship should not endorse political candidates and the majority of Americans (54%) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters.
The concerns of the Coalition cannot be dismissed as merely anti-religious agitation. Its executive director adds “Holding these organizations to the same filing standards as other charitable and educational institutions ensures that the almost $100 billion being donated to religious organizations is actually going to help those who need it.”
But for all that there are substantial concerns about their proposal. First, churches do tend to be beneficial to our society notwithstanding the exceptions and the politicizers. Then, forcing the deacons at fifty-member First Baptist Church to fill out pages of disclosures to the IRS is not a step in the right direction. Moreover, it’s generally a good thing to keep the state from detailed prying into the affairs of a church.
There are some alternatives to the proposals of the Secular Coalition. First, churches could voluntarily steer clear of overt political speech and activity. (Yeah, right. But we can always hope.) Second, the IRS could investigate and sanction some big churches from each side of the political spectrum, a classic way of getting the attention of smaller fish. Or the Coalition’s vision of enforcement could be applied only to churches of certain (large) size, similar to some other federal laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act. If governmental entities deepen in their budgetary stress over the coming years don’t expect this issue to just go away.