Liberty Counsel, a religious right advocacy group, is...saying that "Silence Is Not An Option" and...that pastors have the right to "educate" their congregations about biblical values, legislation and candidates whenever they see fit. In an August 16 YouTube presentation, Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver and Matt Barber said that 100,000 "Silence Is Not An Option" packets are being sent out to pastors.
Staver pointed out that churches do not need to obtain a letter from the IRS confirming their tax exempt status — which is true according to an IRS publication on non-profits, which states:
"Churches. Although a church, its integrated auxiliaries, or a convention or association of churches is not required to file Form 1023 to be exempt from federal income tax or to receive tax deductible contributions, the organization may find it advantageous to obtain recognition of exemption. In this event, you should submit information showing that your organization is a church, synagogue, association or convention of churches, religious order, or religious organization that is an integral part of a church, and that it is engaged in carrying out the function of a church.
"In determining whether an admittedly religious organization is also a church, the IRS does not accept every assertion that the organization is a church. Because beliefs and practices vary so widely, there is no single definition of the word church for tax purposes. The IRS considers the facts and circumstances of each organization applying for church status."
Not having to go through the time-consuming process of obtaining a letter designating a church as a non-profit is just one of many privileges that churches enjoy under the tax code above and beyond all other organizations, as the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is documenting.
The 1954 Johnson Amendment prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes charities and churches, from engaging in any political campaign activity, but as Reuters pointed out last month, as churches are becoming more political, the IRS is not doing anything about it. Reuters reported:
"Unlike other types of charities, churches do not have to file financial statements with the government. There are only rough estimates of church endowment or investment income, which is also tax-free and believed to be larger than annual contributions.
"Using tax data from the U.S. Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and data on giving to churches from the Indiana Center, a Reuters analysis found that tax breaks on church giving shaved $12 billion or so from total U.S. tax collections in 2011 and approximately $145 billion over the last decade.
"The property tax break is probably even bigger. In their 2011 book "Politics, Taxes, and the Pulpit," law professors Nina Crimm and Laurence Winer calculated that houses of worship received $12.7 billion in property tax exemptions on $685 billion of property in 2006, a figure large enough to have played a role in city and state budget deficits of recent years.
"In big cities the numbers can be dramatic. New York City's 9,500 churches, synagogues, and mosques, for example, will avoid $626.9 million in property taxes this year thanks to their tax-free status, according to the city's Independent Budget Office."
Liberty Counsel's Staver and Barber argue that because churches need not obtain a letter of tax exemption, they can cross the line about political campaigning as much as they want.
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