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A group called Let Freedom Ring is apparently mailing pastors copies of their DVD Inner Strength along with a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund opining that a church would not risk its tax exempt status by screening the film for parishioners.

Perhaps that's technically correct, but the video (which you can watch at the link above) is quite clearly a half-hour campaign commercial for George W. Bush. Now, ultimately, I think that's fine: there's something bizarre about a system that insists religious leaders not offer their congregations any views on something as important as who's going to be president for the next four years, and using the carrot of conditional tax-exempt status to squelch speech isn't really any better than it would be to use the stick of additional taxes levied upon anyone who wanted to express a political opinion. But under the logic of campaign finance regulation, I don't see why Bush or McCain shouldn't regard a pastor screening this as equivalent what to those "shadowy 527 groups" do.

NEXT: Way the Hell Off the Reservation

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  1. Ugh. Little is more disgusting than “don’t think for yourself, I’ll tell you how your religion commands you to vote.” If threatening Churches’ tax-exempt status works to squelch the practice, then great.

    I see little difference between paying money for someone’s vote and paying perceived salvation for someone’s vote. In fact, the salvation will have more sway, because of the old problem that once someone goes into the voting booth they can vote however they want and the money briber won’t know; however, the person voting for religious reasons will believe God knows how they voted.

    Dear God, protect me from your followers.

  2. I don’t think churches should have special tax exemptions to begin with. The line should be drawn the same for all non-profits: either you stay out of using your funds to advocate on behalf of candidates or you get taxed like a business, your choice. I don’t bemoan that as threatening anything: it’s an even playing field in the tax code. Churches shouldn’t get special treatment just because they claim to be doing something more “important” than other non-profits.

  3. I’ve never thought of this until now, and never heard anyone say it, so feel free to point out that it’s bunk (or has been said a thousand times before), but isn’t specifically giving religious organization’s tax exempt status the same as making “a law respecting an establishment of religion?” Even if they technically exempt all of them (of course, how do they decide what constitutes a religious establishment?), they’re still making law respecting establishments of religion.

  4. I agree, mtc and plunge. Why do religions get any special treatment? Can I get tax-exempt status due to my atheist views?

  5. The simpler solution is simply remove all limits on political speech. Like it or not, America will continue to have nonprofit organizations including churches. So what? The problem here is limiting the First Amendment rights of a peacefully assembled body.

    One of the major political stumbling blocks for libertarians is the antipathy towards religion. A majority of Americans consider themselves religious/spiritual. Instead of a knee-jerk anti-religion attitude, next time pretend the Baptist’s Sunday service is really a mini-Burning Man pot smoking, hot oil orgy. It may make it easier to focus on the issue.

  6. Well said, Jose. I almost did a double take when I opened up this comments section and saw folks apparently wishing that churches and non-profits were taxed like everybody else.

  7. Double take away. There should be no limit on political speech, and churches shouldn’t be subsidized. Tax ’em, or remove everyones tax. I believe in the god of commerce, and my business is my temple, therefor it should be tax exempt.

  8. I’ve always thought that a major limitation of religions is the antipathy they have against libertarians.

  9. What deron said.

  10. Since many religious groups and churches make no secret about their intent to mix religion with politics for their own goals, I see it as fair turn-about to have antipathy towards them. I was not “knee-jerking” against religion, and I have no problem with religion or spirituality, but when they try to use politics to impose their view on everybody else, that’s upsetting.

  11. Jose, you’re right. I have nothing against peacefull assembled bodies (and I’m all for finely assembled bodies;). But again, why should religions be tax-exempt? And what’s the criteria?

  12. I am all about religions being tax exempt.

    I think that Jesse Jackson figured that one out.

    Now to what that Deron said about my temple being my buisness. Halleluja tax exemption.

  13. Sheesh,

    Let’s see, why stop at bashing only churches & koch interns. I guess the next thing will be addressing issues of tobacco and guns – if every other consumer product is regulated by morons, why shouldn these products be treated differently.

    As for political campaigning, the list of organizations that influence the political process via the support of their tax exempt status is quite large, and not very liberty-friendly. My anger is directed at local state social services that offer “non-partisan” “educational” voting materials through STATE FUNDED offices, employees etc.

  14. The last time I checked, Deron, religion has far more devotees than libertarianism. This is something of a stumbling block when it comes to public policy change in a democracy. Oh, I forget. Libertarians are far too busy being smug and arguing over infinitesimal differences in Randian philosophy to worry about (gasp) winning an election.

    Why not use the positive influence of religious citizens to remove all limits on political speech. After this policy victory, the next challenge is not to tax churches, but to change the structure of the tax system. And for the purpose of this discussion, let us assume the libertarian tax free Nirvana is somewhere in the distant future with heroin vending machines at pre-schools and the return of the gold standard.

    Insofar as churches provide free religious services, they would not be affected by a national sales tax. If corporate taxes were limited to only taxing profits, churches would owe no taxes. The reality is that America is a religious country. While you may think your business is a temple… your view is shared about the same number of peope who want to make croquet the national sport.

    The way to solve the issue of tax exempt churches is the change the structure of corporate taxation to make the point moot. Until libertarians learn to work cooperatively with the religious, the high water mark of libertarian influence will be glib posts in the H&R forum.

  15. I can’t get very worked up about churches pushing a conservative line.

    First, there the Jesse Jackson/Bill Clinton legacy of using black churches politically. Kerry has enthusiastically picked up that legacy.

    Second, I’ve heard sermons whose title might as well be “God wants you to be a liberal”. Pastors opining that if you don’t believe in universal healthcare and a guaranteed “living wage” job for everyone, then you just aren’t a good Christian.

    Now, I’m all for free speech, and I responded appropriately – by withdrawing my support for that church rather than call for some authority (secular or otherwise) to step in.

    Similarly, if the congregation is not in tune with the conservative-boosting of the clergy and administration of the church, the price will be paid in defections. That’s Markets 101.

    You can’t ban political activity at churches, or even make tax-exempt status contingent on lack of political activity, because there’s no obvious place to draw the line. Campaign “reform” should have taught us that lesson (though Sandra Day O’Connor is too dense to see it).

    On the other hand, what good does it do to tax churches? They don’t produce any goods. Only their property could reasonably be used for taxation, and if that were allowed, it would be a de facto way for local and state governments to pressure churches via their property value appraisals. (Unlike most residents and businesses, churches can’t really pull up stakes and go somewhere else.)

    So just let ’em yap. It will even out over the long haul. No matter what you do, you’ll never stop the liberal line from being preached from the pulpit – sympathetic media and bureaucrats will make sure of that. Might as well let the conservative line be put out there too.

  16. There was never separation between church and state and never will be.

  17. “…I’ve heard sermons whose title might as well be “God wants you to be a liberal”. Pastors opining that if you don’t believe in universal healthcare and a guaranteed “living wage” job for everyone….”

    You have pretty much nailed the Unitarians there. The Quakers have gotten just about as bad.

  18. You misunderstand. Sure, it would be great if nobody got taxed. And it would be great if the money supported political speech about federal candidates wasn’t regulated. But we do get taxed and it is regulated. And given that, I see no reason why religions should get special treatment that’s different from other secular non-profit enterprises.

  19. Churches, as compared to secular non-profits, have specific Federal and State constitutional protection. Those calling for taxes on churches would do better to lobby their local governments to switch from taxation of assessed property value to fees based on use of a service. If local government owns the local water department/company, it can meter how much is used. An apartment building will probably use more water, and hence have a higher bill, than an equally valuable meeting hall that is used a few times a week. Many communities negotiate fees in place of taxes for such municipal services churches use, such as trash collection.

    I’m not religious, but we should remember that if we want to live in a society which will transfer many functions currently provided by the government to the private sector, many of those will best be provided by non-profits, sectarian and secular. The 40% of Americans who are regular churchgoers are going to be comfortable helping the poor through the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities. Many parents choosing among private schools will want to place their kids in religious ones. We might not even have what’s left of private education if the Catholic schools hadn’t won the School Sisters case. Given the choice of putting any kids I might have with the NEA Blob or the Sisters, I’d pick the latter. If Junior can learn to diagram a sentence and follow a syllogism, I can always disabuse him of the god-stuff. Skulls filled with the mush the educationist establishment peddles today are philosophical Augean stables.

    I hope people know that if a church owns a profit-making venture, the IRS will frequently require that it be confined to a separate entity, whose profits are taxed. What remains after that is transferrred to the tax-exempt parent.

    Kevin

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