Churches Risk Their Tax-Exempt Status When Dabbling in Politics

By Price, Marie | THE JOURNAL RECORD, May 16, 2008 | Go to article overview

Churches Risk Their Tax-Exempt Status When Dabbling in Politics


Price, Marie, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Churches and other religious organizations jeopardize their tax- exempt status when they or their leaders cross the line into political activity prohibited by federal law and Internal Revenue Service regulations, tax attorneys say.

The IRS is investigating the United Church of Christ over a speech presidential candidate Barack Obama gave last June at the denomination's national meeting. Obama is a UCC member.

The issue resurfaced recently amid controversy about certain remarks made by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Obama's home church.

In a Feb. 25 letter to the denomination, the IRS said "a reasonable belief exists" that the UCC has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status as a church. The letter also claimed that Obama volunteers staffed tables outside of the meeting venue to promote the senator's campaign.

UCC leaders have denied wrongdoing, noting that Obama was addressing his own church family to discuss his personal faith. A UCC official announced before the speech that it was not a campaign event, and that electioneering would not be tolerated inside the venue.

A church that took out newspaper ads criticizing President Bill Clinton in 1992 lost its federal tax exemption.

However, the Alliance Defense Fund, a national conservative legal organization, is pushing for churches to defy the IRS and speak out on election-related issues in September.

Tulsa tax attorney Phil Haney, who represents several churches and religious organizations, said that initiative may provide an interesting test case.

"I've seen some rumblings of that," he said. "I suppose the tension here is between tax legislation and constitutional issues."

He said another consideration may center on regulation of the behavior of groups that have been granted tax-exempt status, while some believe that behavior is permitted by the U.S. Constitution.

Haney said churches are virtually the only charities that do not have to go to the IRS for a tax-exempt designation.

He said that "Section 508" churches can function as such without an IRS determination letter, which gives the federal agency no designation to revoke. He also said donations to such churches are generally deductible if the church provides receipts, behaves like a church, and meets certain other IRS requirements.

"There are some interesting issues there," Haney said.

Oklahoma IRS spokesman David Stell said churches may not participate in a political campaign for or against a candidate, including publishing or distributing statements.

"A candidate may be invited to speak to members of the church or religious organization, as long as an equal opportunity is provided to other candidates seeking the same office, the church or religious organization explicitly indicates it is not supporting or opposing any candidate, and no fundraising occurs," Stell said.

Religious groups may also distribute voter guides, he said, as long as they are not biased in favor of or against a candidate.

Churches and related groups may also advocate for or against issues and, to a limited extent, ballot questions or legislation, he said.

"Churches and religious organizations may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an education manner," Stell said. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Churches Risk Their Tax-Exempt Status When Dabbling in Politics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.