Recently we have had a pastor, Rev. Cary Gordon, at a church in Iowa, one Cornerstone World Outreach Church, effectively dare the IRS to “do something about” his active encouraging of other church leaders and church goers to vote specifically for a measure on the 2010 mid-term election ballot. Of course the issue he was taking up was the retention vote for Supreme Court Justices as well as the Constitutional Convention to modify the Iowa Constitution. He was telling everyone specifically how to vote in the then-coming election and to vote NO on the retention of the judges. We all know how this travesty of judiciary policy was played out when these Justices were ousted by popular Iowan vote. However, that is not the issue here. The issue here is the separation of Church and State in the United States of America.
In our country we have tax codes that apply to any kind of organization. In particular organizations that are not-for-profit are exempt from taxes on the goods and services they purchase. The trade of that they get from this tax-free status is that they pay no taxes, but they are unable to act as a political entity. In effect they have no status as political activists and can have no say in political affairs. No taxes paid, no legal representation. Fair enough? Well, not when you actively tell people to vote one way or another. Not when you pour hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell people how to vote. Not when you actively campaign against certain candidates based on religious grounds.
Everyone knows this, though, right? This isn’t news that non-profit organizations can’t do this, right? ISUAAS can’t go about soliciting donations to give to Jason Kelley to run for office. Not at all!
But it happens. Every. Single. Day. Every single day in our country when groups get together under non-profit status as churches, they advocate policies and instruct their patrons on how to vote. Now, they are not as blatant about it as Pastor Gordon up there in Sioux City. They don’t go so far to dare the IRS to come cracking down on them. I mean, could you imagine if these churches were no longer tax free? The amount of money that would pour into the public coffers to help pay for things like education, roads, and infrastructure would be HUGE! Do these churches really have any idea how game-changing that losing a case to the IRS over the 1st Amendment could be? I don’t think they do, or if they do, they sure are quiet right now.
Now the main reason I writing this is because an interesting thought has been murmured about in the secular community. Why are churches taxes exempt? I mean, if we started taxing them, then they’d be able to participate in politics! That is no good, right? The thing is, they already do. Taxing churches now would for certain close down a large percentage of religious institutions in this country. Even if we taxed only the ones that were demonstrably violating IRS codes (nearly all) we would see a rapid decline of the number of churches in our country. The tough thing about this, is it possible for churches to NOT violate the IRS code? Many church teachings tell citizens how to live their lives in a “moral” way, and often that includes voting for certain policies or politicians in a certain way. Is it even possible for churches to be churches without swaying public policy? Can there really be a separation of Church and State when Churches can literally shape public policy?
I don’t think it is, and they should pay for the privilege like everyone else. They will shape public policy whether they are taxed or not.