Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Democrat presidential candidate said that churches and other religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status.
It’s obvious by his goal that he does not understand how tax exemption works. Those who get the tax deduction are the people who donate to 501(c)(3) organizations. Most churches fall into this category.
This means that O’Rourke is calling for taxing the donors since they will not be able to claim the deduction on their taxes. The churches won’t be affected. Donors to 501(c)(3) organizations could still receive donations and not pay any tax on the donations because anyone can give a gift of up to $15,000 per year without any tax consequences to the recipient. A family of four could give a gift of up to $60,000 with no tax consequences to the church.
Also, O’Rourke doesn’t have any authority to remove the tax-exempt status of 501(c)(3) organizations. Congress would have to pass legislation. Once Congress goes down this road, all 501(c)(3) organizations could be targeted for political reasons by the opposing political party.
On a side note, don’t think a church without a 501(c)(3) designation will not be targeted by the government. When the State wants you to stop doing something, it always finds a way.
The First Amendment does not prohibit churches from speaking out on any issue including political and moral ones, even if they are tax exempt. The amendment is so clear that liberals almost never cite it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) engaged in constitutional fiction when he claimed the following: “A church cannot link or direct people to an organization telling people how to vote…. All nonprofits, including churches, cannot endorse or oppose candidates. The IRS does warn nonprofits about linking to campaign-related websites.”
Notice that the First Amendment gives everyone, churches included, the right to speak about religion, write about religion, congregate about religion, and “petition the government for a redress of grievances” about religion and anything else.
The Church is a parallel government and is tax immune because of its governmental status. Andrew Sandlin comments:
The church as God’s embassy on earth may speak His Word on ANY topic, and to surrender tithes and offerings to the state is to rob God.
Many Christians don’t understand that the church operates as a foreign embassy.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
Embassies are not taxed. Federal offices in the various states are not taxed by the states.
The threat of persecution by governing officials is not new. The early Christians were threatened with violence if they continued to preach an unpopular message (Acts 4:1-31). Peter and John made it clear that it didn’t matter if they were prohibited from speaking out. Obedience to the governing authorities only goes so far; It’s not absolute:
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20).
A similar prohibition received the same type of response:
When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:27-29).
The threat of a loss of a tax exemption because of faithfully preaching of “the whole purpose of God” (20:27) should not deter the church from fulfilling its mission.
Any church that gives into the State is not a true church and will be marked as such.
Intimidating churches in the United States has been going on for a long time. Americans United for Separating Such and State has been monitoring the content of Sunday sermons since 2004. If these self-appointed snitches don’t like what they hear, that is, if what a pastor says is “too political” and contrary to a liberal political agenda, they will send video and audio tapes to the IRS for investigation.
The Nazis did a similar thing. Will our government plant “spies” in churches when ministers preach from parts of the Bible where the practice of homosexuality is condemned? It’s happened before:
Now, the charge against [Martin] Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically…. [W]ritten laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of judges. The totalitarian principle which governs Nazi Germany, as I have indicated before, includes religion as a function of the State. Therefore, by recognizing Christ only as his Leader, Pastor Niemoeller was denying the right to divine leadership to Hitler. His offense was all the more serious because he had exhorted his followers to do likewise.”1
What will be the response of churches in America if the increasingly secular and anti-Christian courts rule that “discriminating” against “legally married” homosexual couples is a criminal act? For what may be in store for American churches, see Chuck and Donna McIlhenny’s When the Wicked Seize a City: A Grim Look at the Future and a Warning to the Church.
There are no constitutional prohibitions against churches speaking out on political issues, topics of moral concern, or even endorsing candidates. We got into this mess when in 1954 a law was rammed through Congress by then-Senator Lyndon Johnson to restrict churches from speaking freely on topics religious leaders and pastors have addressed for nearly two millennia. The following is from the IRS:
In 1954, Congress approved an amendment by Sen. Lyndon Johnson to prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity. To the extent Congress has revisited the ban over the years, it has in fact strengthened the ban. The most recent change came in 1987 when Congress amended the language to clarify that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.
This ban was a direct violation of the First Amendment. Almost no one pays attention to this unconstitutional law. “It has been quite rare as [a] matter of practice for the IRS to enforce that rule,” said Kent Greenfield, a law professor at Boston College. Pastors have often used the law as an excuse not to preach or teach on subjects that relate to politics.
If you are a pastor who believes in the freedoms outlined in the First Amendment and want to challenge these leftist organizations and the IRS, then support The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal advocacy group. Don’t be bullied. It’s time to take a stand for Jesus Christ. Your future and the future of your children and nation are at stake.
- Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175. [↩]