Election blurring of U.S. church-state separation draws complaints to tax authorities

By Reuters Staff
November 14, 2012

Pastor Mark Harris of First Baptist Church gives his sermon during the fifth and largest “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in Charlotte, North Carolina October 7, 2012. More than 1,300 pastors across the country climbed to the lectern just weeks before the U.S. presidential and congressional elections, to urge people to vote for or against particular candidates.  REUTERS/John Adkisson

Political watchdog and secularist groups are asking the U.S. government to investigate whether Catholic bishops and a Christian evangelical group headed by preacher Billy Graham should lose tax breaks for telling followers how to vote in this year’s election.

Under constitutional protections of free speech and separation of church and state, churches are free to speak on any issue. But they risk losing tax breaks worth $145 billion in the past decade if they violate Internal Revenue Service rules by promoting or opposing any particular candidate. Other non-profits also have special tax status.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a political watchdog group, in its complaint to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, cited reports of individual bishops “abusing their positions to advocate against the election of President Barack Obama.”

The group’s executive director, Melanie Sloan, said some bishops went too far by saying a vote for Democrats would mean going to hell. “I don’t think the Catholic bishops should be intimidating parishioners to advocate for any particular candidate,” said Sloan.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation complained to the IRS about possible illegal political campaign intervention by Wisconsin Catholic bishops and the Charlotte, North Carolina-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

IRS spokesman Dean Patterson declined to comment on the complaints or on whether there was any investigation. “Federal law prohibits the IRS from discussing specific taxpayers or situations,” Patterson said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, through its spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh, said it would not comment on what a bishop says in his diocese.

Read the full story by Mary Wisniewski here.
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2 comments

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The blurring of Church/State Separation is a very dangerous situation. Freedom of religion is one of the most important features of American Society. As a student of American history I discovered a very long time ago that our forefathers felt strongly in the neccessity for a strictly secular government. Many disscussions were held on the wording of our Constitution. The mention of “God” was delibertly left out. I certainly hope the IRS investigates these offending churches and removes their tax exempt status. If they want to be politically active, then let them pay taxes just like everyone else!

Posted by exrepublican437 | Report as abusive

Imagine if the killing blow for religious organizations came from the hands of the IRS for tax evasion and not secular/atheistic trends. This theist would find it ironically hilarious, as if something from Seinfeld.

Posted by ReaderAtSunrise | Report as abusive