Political Campaign Activity by Non Profit Organizations – Part 3

Despite the IRS ban on church political activity, there is a large and growing group of pastors and churches who are actively supporting the repeal of the Johnson Amendment banning church and non-profit political activity.

Each year in October, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sponsors Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in which pastors take to the pulpit and engage in banned political activity.  In 2014, over 1,800 pastors participated with the large majority of them preaching sermons presenting their view of the biblical perspectives on the positions of elected candidates and signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon.  Additional pastors signed the statement, but did not preach to that effect.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley stated that the IRS “shouldn’t threaten a church’s tax-exempt status simply because the pastor exercised his constitutionally protected freedom of speech.”

However, not all agree with this position.  Dr. C. Welton Gaddy stated “Clergy endorsing candidates from the pulpit are trying to provoke a legal fight, not convey a spiritual truth. I am certain the ban on endorsements from the pulpit is constitutional. However, even if it didn’t exist – if the courts did away with it tomorrow – it would do nothing to change my belief that clergy diminish their standing and damage their faith when they use their pulpits to further a political candidate.”

In response to Pulpit Freedom Sunday, the IRS has stated that the political speech prohibition will now be more strictly enforced.  The secular group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) stated that they remain “committed to seeking IRS investigations into this illegal activity.”

There appear to be three camps in this battle.  Groups such as FFRF would maintain the ban with the view that in exchange for tax exempt status, churches and religious organizations must give up the right to express political opinions.  The second group, at the other end of the spectrum, would allow full freedom of political speech from the pulpit. This group hinges its argument on the First Amendment freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.  The third group basically states that the ban should not be necessary.  Engaging in political activities is not a proper channel for church participation. Given the right to speak politically from the pulpit, these pastors would choose not to do so.  This seems to be the prudent approach. It does not advance the cause of religion when members are confronted with political issues from the pulpit.  When individuals go to worship, they are seeking God, not politics.

See the Update HERE.

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Dr. John Stancil (My Bald CPA) is Professor Emeritus of Accounting and Tax at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, FL. He is a CPA, CMA, and CFM and passed all exams on the first attempt. He holds a DBA from the University of Memphis and the MBA from the University of Georgia. He has maintained a CPA practice since 1979 with an emphasis in taxation. His areas of expertise include church and clergy tax issues and the foreign earned income credit. He prepares all types of returns, individual and business.

Dr. Stancil has written for the Polk County Business Journal and has presented a number of papers at academic conferences. He wrote the Instructor’s Manual for the 13th edition of Horngren’s Cost Accounting. He is published in the Global Sustainability as a Business Imperative, Green Issues and Debates, The Encyclopedia of Business in Today’s World, The Palmetto Business Review, The CPA Journal, and in the NATP TaxPro Journal. His paper, “Building Sustainability into the Tax Code” was recognized as the outstanding accounting paper at the annual meeting of the South East InfORMS. He wrote a book entitled “Tax Issues Faced by U. S. Missionary Personnel Abroad ” that will soon be published.

He has recently launched a new endeavor, Church Tax Solutions, which presents online, on demand seminars on various church and clergy tax issues.

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