Should pastors be allowed to preach politics?

Some preachers around the country spent yesterday endorsing John McCain for president, apparently in violation of IRS rules that do not allow non-profit organizations who have a tax-exempt status from actively engaging in campaigning for an individual candidate.

Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church was one of them. So was George Marin at Grace Christian Church in Albert Lea.

gus_booth.jpg“I’d like to see that the IRS is not in the business of prohibiting religious speech, that’s for sure,” Booth told me this afternoon. “They have made a statute that is in competition with the Constitution. I feel like the Constitution has given me a First Amendment right to say what I want to say and I don’t lose that when I step behind my pulpit.”

This isn’t the first time Booth has challenged the law. In May he delivered a sermon about the Democratic candidates for president.

“If you are a Christian, you cannot support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama….Both Hillary and Barack favor the shedding of innocent blood (abortion) and the legalization of the abomination of homosexual marriage.”

Has he heard anything from the IRS yet?

“That’s the only question I cannot answer, because of my attorney’s advice,” Booth said.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, called Booth’s actions last May “a flagrant violation of federal tax law.”

“Booth is free to endorse anyone he wants to as a private citizen,” Lynn said in a press release announcing the filing of a complaint with the IRS. “But when he is standing in his tax-exempt pulpit as the top official of a tax-exempt religious organization, he must lay partisanship aside. The IRS needs to look into this apparent violation of federal tax law.”

“I don’t have to pay for free speech. We’re a non-profit organization and we’re by nature not even taxable. So we don’t even have to be a 501-C3 to not pay taxes. We’re not taxable. We’re non profit so you can’t tax us,” Booth says.

He won’t be preaching politics again anytime soon. “I’ve already done it twice, so I doubt that I’m going to preach again this election year on it simply because when you preach on the same subject over and over again, you’re not being a good pastor… it’s irrelevant after a few Sundays.”

Booth says his congregation has been supportive of his challenge to the law. But he also acknowledges he hasn’t seen any cars in the church’s parking lot sporting Barack Obama bumper stickers.

Religious scholar Martin Marty, sees no legitimate debate about religious freedom in the “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” protest…


No doubt myriad violations occur in pulpits and church bulletins, but most of them tend to be casual or subtle or only semi-substantial. The Pulpit Freedom Sunday of the Alliance Defense Fund does not want to be casual or subtle or less than substantially substantial. The preachers it backs and propels want to make this a law-defying act of “freedom.” We can be sure that opponents of this generally right-wing political cause will be provoked into counter-testing, asking the IRS and the feds to insist on support of law. Is this a real “pulpit freedom” issue? Some want to compare it to Martin Luther King and conscientious objectors and any who appeal to a “higher law.” But King and the objectors know that they are vulnerable to arrest or penalties, and have often paid them by sitting in jails. The Pulpit Freedom advocates appeal to no “higher law;” they simply want the freedom to break existing laws.

A call to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has not been returned.

Booth is appearing appeared on the second hour of NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

  • David

    Seems the religious organization is under IRS jurisdication as a 501C3 and therefore the IRS has the ability to regulate those entities and he being a part of that entity must comply with the Federal CFR, although he might argue DISPARITY, as others in 501C3 can openly promote their views. Being in a priviledged position I’m not sure that flies.

  • tammy

    Churches want to endorse canidates? Fine. Revoke their tax-exempt status from the date of their first “offense.” Then send them a bill for the amounts that they owe.

  • David

    The IRS title 26 Code 501C3 establised organized religion that is controlled under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government IRS title 26. This is a hidden fact how the Federal Government instead of seperating Church and State has actually found a way an endocytosis fasion. That is is has engulfed the Church under Title 26 and thus has intituted the Church and State Union.

  • David

    The editor took a bread so my previous post, this part shoud have read,This is a hidden fact how the Federal Government instead of seperating Church and State has actually found a way, just as in biology processes, to endocytosis the Church.

  • Joel

    Didn’t some Liberal churches loose their tax exemption during the last presidential election for endorsing Kerry, or for speaking out against Bush? I seem to recall this happening…a little hypocritical, isn’t it?

  • David

    The paster presents a constitutional argument and the same problem occurs as we have seen played out with the Bush Admin arguing for a Unitarian Predidency and that is that they use empirialist Law to argue against Natural Law. Personally, I don’t like the British empirialist ways and I side with the Natural Law of the Constitution!

  • David

    Keypoint in my above post is that the British empiralist law changes the definition of the words being used in law to suit their end goal. Whereas the Constitutional Natual Law is a Self Evident Truth which cannot be changed, it’s a given. But, the British Empiralists Law used is the tool used to subvert the definitions.

  • Joel
  • Danielle Annette

    I think this is a ridiculous conversation, especially in light of Barack Obama’s “dream speech” on race, where he categorically affirmed his church’s right to preach party politics from the pulpit, if not endorse candidates by name. I’m a transplant to Minnesota, and I’ve been to any number of protestant denominations looking for a spiritual home here and in California. The largest conflict I have felt in each one is a specific ideological split in political opinion, often accompanied by some speech on hellfire and damnation from the pulpit.

    The truth of the matter is that the only reason this is ‘becoming an issue’ is that the endorsement was for John McCain instead of Barack Obama, and that – my friends – is not justice or equality.

  • bsimon

    “I’d like to see that the IRS is not in the business of prohibiting religious speech, that’s for sure,” Booth told me this afternoon. “They have made a statute that is in competition with the Constitution. I feel like the Constitution has given me a First Amendment right to say what I want to say and I don’t lose that when I step behind my pulpit.”

    Pastor Booth is confusing the right to free speech with the privilege of tax free status. The IRS is not challenging his right, the IRS is (or could) revoking his church’s privileged status. To enjoy the privilege of tax-free status, churches are obliged to meet certain criteria, including a requirement to refrain from endorsing political candidates. If he breaks that rule, Pastor Booth should expect to lose the accompanying privilege.

  • Jennifer B

    Danielle, I respectfully have to disagree. As a Christian, I have a problem with any pastor filling his/her pulpit with politics, regardless of the platform. I don’t got to church for that, nor should I.

    On that note, I find it absolutely insulting that these pastors assume that their congregation isn’t smart enough to make decisions on their own. Teach them values and trust them to enact them on their own.

    Since when did abortion and gay marriage become the only moral issues that matter?? What about things such as poverty, healthcare, war, etc? Aren’t these moral issues as well?? The Bible has far more to say about how to treat the poor than it does about gay marriage. And I would be willing to argue that poverty is having a much more damaging effect on our world than the push for gay marriage.

    If these pastors diagree and would rather play in the political realm, it’s time for them to pay their dues.

  • Danielle Annette

    Jennifer,

    I have to say that I agree with your statements. However, I haven’t heard anything about Obama’s church losing its tax exempt status for making defamatory comments about Hillary Clinton during the primary process. That’s my key disconnect. If you’re going to apply this law, do it – full throttle.

  • Jennifer B

    I agree. If a church is found to be endorsing ANY candidate, regardless of who it is, they should lose their tax exempt status.

  • tom cruise

    //If you’re going to apply this law, do it – full throttle.//

    OOOO !!!!!!!

    M-A-V-E-R-I-C-K-S!

    now there is a political campaign slogan!!!

  • Sharon Kadlec

    It seems to me that a religious leader is using God’s leverage to influence His flock when he uses the pulpit to offer personal political opinion.

    God gave us all a free will. Only our personal beliefs can direct us through our individual faculties.

    It is not appropriate; I wouldn’t let the CEO of the company I work for tell me how to vote. And, I certainly wouldn’t let the Pope decide who should be president.

    That would be the same kind of unfair leverage on those who are meek. My opinion is that God wants us to make our own decisions and seek out those that we would have lead us. The IRS aside; Free will, means free will.

    If people seek a pastor’s private opinion in private, so be it. Pressuring from the pulpit would be like saying it is a Commandment.

    Thanks for listening.

    Sharon

  • Aida

    I am a Catholic who was born and raised in Egypt during Nasser’s time. The government was repressive and people had to vote a certain way. My father who was at the peak of his career as a Pharmaceutical Chemist, made the ultimate sacrifice to leave Egypt so that his daughters could be educated in a free country. Forcing people to vote a certain way because of one issue is reminiscent of the repressive regimes of the Middle East. There are many pro life issues besides abortion. Adressing issues of war, poverty domestic violence etc. are all pro life issues. I will vote my conscience and do not wish anyone to influence my vote.

  • Jim!!!

    Totally religilous. Tax ‘em.

  • karlkat

    David Kuo was once the deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. But Kuo says religious leaders were manipulated for political gain. In his book, Kuo wrote that White House staffers would roll their eyes at evangelicals, calling them “nuts” and “goofy.” Translation “chumps”.

    As a side note, this Faith Based Initiative that President Bush signed is based on an international agreement, and has nothing to do with local Churches, in the several states of the union. However, it’s important to understand the importance of Mr. Kuo’s statement in light of a Supreme Court decision.

    The case is Bob Jones University v. United States 461 U.S. 574.

    In this particular case, the Supreme Court stated that all 501(c) 3 Corporations are to serve the goals of the government, (manipulated) if you will.

    So what tax are all 501(c) 3 seeking exemption from?, the answer is in Justice Rehnquist dissenting opinion.

    JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting, points out that The income tax portion of the 1894 Act was held unconstitutional by this Court, see Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 158 U.S. 601 (1895) and With the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, Congress again turned its attention to an individual income tax with the Tariff Act of 1913. And again, in the direct predecessor of § 501(c)(3), a tax exemption was provided for any corporation or association organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational purposes, [p616] no part of the net income of which inures to the benefit of any private stockholder or individual…… (end of quote)

    (comments) The 1894 Tax was a direct tax on the American People, and was held unconstitutional, Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co supra and rightfully so. The next part of His opinion points out that the Tariff Act of 1913 as the tax imposed on 501(c) Corporations. The 16th Amendment, in then president Taft’s own words was a tax “on the Federal Government” so no apportionment was necessary. So what effect could a tariff tax, (which deals with foreigners) have to do with 501(c) Corporations? Here’s the actual law.

    REVISED . UNITED STATES INTERNAL REVENUE

    PART 1

    INCOME TAX .

    [Acts Sept . 8. 1916. and Oct . 8. 1917.1

    FOREIGN CORPORATIONS

    307 Art.64. Taxable income.-Under section 10 of Title I of the act

    of September 8,1916, as amended, a tax of 2 per cent shall be levied

    assessed, collected, and paid annually upon the total net income received

    in the preceding calendar year, from all sources within the

    United States, by every corporation, joint-stock company or association

    or insurance company organized, authorized, or existing under

    the laws of any foreign country.

    Art.66. Source within United States.-It is not necessary that the

    foreign corporation shall be engaged in business in this country or

    that it have an ofiice, branch, or agency in the United States.

    Liability to the tax attaches with respect to the income, the source

    of which is in the United States. ‘; Source ” as here used means the place of the origin of the income.

    Every foreign corporation having income from sources within

    the United States must make returns of annual net income in

    sccordance with the rule set out in section 12 ( 6 ) of the act of

    September 8,1916, as amended by the act of October 3,1917 .

    308

    CORPORATIONS EXEMPT FROM TAX.

    312 Art. 67. Conditional.-Corporations or associations organized and

    operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational

    purposes, business leagues, chambers of commerce, boards of 15 U.S.C. 331 et seq

    trade, civic leagues, cemetery companies, and pleasure and recreation

    ing purposes, the promotion or defeat of legislation, the exploitation

    of propaganda, and contributions for campaign expenses are held

    not to be an ordinary and necessary expense in the operation and

    maintenance of the business of a corporation, and are therefore not

    deductible from gross income in arriving at the net income upon

    which the income tax is computed. (T. D. 2137.)

    The excise tax that was being imposed was the war profit tax of 4%, it applied only to Foreign Corporations, referred to as Controlled Corporations, After cessation of hostilities the tax was repealed in 1920, replaced with The Foreign Corporation Import and Excise Tax .If the Foreign Corporation was non- profit, the tax was waived, but there were strict laws concerning lobbing and any attempt to influence legislation. The regulations were 'enhanced" by referring to the tariff tax as INCOME TAX, can you say obfuscation?

    So are 501(c) 3 Corporations regarded as Controlled Foreign Corporation?. With very strict limitations on lobbying and attempts to influence legislation contrary to the GOALS of the government. Let's reference the current regulation for an answer.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- --------------------------[Code of Federal Regulations]

    [Title 26, Volume 12] [Revised as of April 1, 2004] From the U.S. Government Printing Office via GPO Access [CITE: 26CFR1.1441-9] PART 1_INCOME TAXES–Table of Contents Sec. 1.1441-9 Exemption from withholding on exempt income of a foreign tax-exempt organization, including foreign private foundations. (a) Exemption from withholding for exempt income. No withholding is required under section 1441(a) or 1442, and the regulations under those sections, on amounts paid to a foreign organization that is described in section 501(c) to the extent that the amounts are not income includable under section 512 in computing the organization’s unrelated business taxable income.

    ——————————————————————————– —————————

    While the above information isn’t meant to exhaustive, it does explain several points in how the tax laws work. Congress tried to pass a direct tax on the American people, but the Supreme Court struck it down , Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 158 U.S. 601 (1895) supra. So what was left? The Foreign Corporation tax Act of 1909, which all 501(c) 3 Churches apply for exemption from,(2) a direct tax on the Federal Government, which is the 16th. Amendment. And Finally(3) the Public Salary tax Act of 1939 (only federal employees), this is the tax that is withheld from paychecks. The latter is similar to the tax President Lincoln imposed on federal employees, it’s now referred to as the normal tax.

    In conclusion there has never been a tax on Churches , the only amounts taxable are those that are reportable. Reportable amounts are listed in the Tax regulations located at 26 CFR 1 861, all have to do with income from foreign Corporations. The Johnson Amendment, being discussed nowadays had nothing to do with local Churches as demonstrated by the above information. Furthermore those that might insist that it does, have a real problem as the tax code dealing with Churches is located at 26USC 3121, 26 USC 3121 is for insular possessions, outside the fifty states. The instructions for the form 990, which all 501(c) 3 Corporations file state the form is to be filed with the director of the local revenue district. The only revenue districts in the fifty states are all for customs, as in import, export.

    Americans that refuse to be victimized by the withholding scheme on their paychecks are securing a complete refund on everything withheld. Going back three years. A list of these Americans can be viewed at http://www.losthorizons.com

    In a recent conversation with an official at the Internal Revenue Service, I was amazed when he told me that ‘If the taxpayers of this country ever discover that the IRS operates on 90% bluff the entire system will collapse’ . Henry Bellmon

    US Senator

  • Elizabeth T

    Tax codes aside: i.e., the following statement represents a recommended policy and is acknowledged to be outside of the laws cited by karlkat

    Preach politics? Tax ‘em!

    There is no restriction in the interpretation of the 501(c)(3) code that say you can’t preach about policies, it’s the “vote for this guy” which is taboo.

    “Gays are going to hell” – okay

    “Abortion is great” – okay

    “Lesbians ought to get married” – okay

    “501(c)(3) tax codes suck” – okay

    “vote for Obama” – not okay

    The priest in my last parish had no problem explaining how various policies are viewed in light of the Catholic Church’s teachings. But, that’s what he talked about: how our religion views certain societal policies. He left it up to us to figure out how to apply our church’s teaching to our voting choices.

  • sheldonM

    Just to provide a little fact to this discussion.

    The major benefit of having a 501.c.3 tax status (as opposed to a 501.c.4 or .6 or .d…..) is that people can deduct donations to the nonprofit corporation from their income for income tax purposes. This in effect has the federal government subsidizing the donations. If you want that benefit, you need to abide by the rules.

    Other types of organizations that have 501.c.3 tax status include private colleges, united ways, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, humane societies, private schools, charter schools, nonprofit hospitals, youth sports organizations–basically things that are “charitable.” A 501.c.3 tax status is not automatic. The organization has to apply to the IRS for it and most (depends on size) must file an annual “990″ IRS tax return (I think churches are exempt from this requirement).

  • Stephanie

    Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

    He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

    “Caesar’s,” they replied.

    “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

    So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.

    (Luke 20:20-26 NLT)

    Allow me to rephrase this:

    The American religious leaders went up to Jesus and asked him “Teacher, is it right for us to pay taxes to our government or not? They gave us tax exempt status and now they are threatening to take it away for the words we speak.” Jesus saw their hearts, the real issue, and said “Show me American money. Whose picture and title is on it?” “They United States of America and our Presidents” they replied. “Well then,” he said “give to the government what belongs to the government, and to God what is God’s.”

    What is the real issue here? Money is money, my God is bigger then that. Pay taxes, who cares. If your church is really doing God’s will he will always give you enough money. The real issue is people. If you want to change a vote you need to change the person’s heart. That takes love, time, teaching, etc. God doesn’t care who gets elected president. He is still in control. Prayer changes more votes than endorsing candidates at the pulpit does. I cannot agree with Pastor Booth. If I were someone who didn’t believe in Jesus and was checking out the church for the first time and I visited Pastor Booth’s church and heard him preach that Christians cannot vote for Hillary or Obama, I would leave and never come back to the church. The real issue is people are dying and going to hell! They don’t need your judgement and condemnation. If I had an abortion and then wanted to give my life to Jesus I would feel judged and condemned in a church that tells me abortion is wrong. I would not want to come back. Now we don’t have to endorse sin. There is a difference. We need to love people, point them to Jesus and let Him change their heart (and their vote). I challenge churches like Pastor Booth’s to take a good hard look at themselves and ask “are we growing?” If you aren’t loving and seeking out lost/unsaved people (people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus) then what are you doing? If your church isn’t growing then you aren’t doing what Jesus told us to do-Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. It boils down to Love God-Love people. If your church isn’t doing that, then what is your purpose. If you are Loving God and Loving people, then you cannot tell people how to vote from the pulpit, because that wouldn’t love and value people who disagree with you. My God is bigger than taxes and bigger than the President. I don’t worry about that stuff, I vote my morals and my beliefs. That is between my God and me, and that is how it should stay.

    On another note, we are to respect our authorities. God is in control, He allowed them to be there. If the government allows an organization to be tax exempt if they abide by set rules, then follow the rules or lose your tax exempt status. It isn’t a matter of freedom of speech. The government lets you say whatever you want, but you have to pay taxes. So Pastor Booth, pay taxes and you can preach whatever you want. We all have to play by the rules.

  • D Mann

    I agree with the last individual….if you would like to do what you want and say what you want then remove the 501c2 and pay the taxes and allow God to be Jehovah-Jireh for you (that’s if you beleive the bible in it’s entirety). I am a Christian and I whole-heartly believe that abortion and homosexualailty is a sin, but breaking man’s law (if it doesn’t contradict God’s law) is also a sin. This man, Booth needs to read Word as a whole, get the log out your own eye, before rebuking someone else. Just because there’s a loop hole in the system doens’t mean someone with God’s values and morals should “slide” through like some snake out of the Garden of Eden. I just know our Lord and Savior is so disappointed when looks down on us…..let’s preach the truth and get the Word out but let’s not look like the world while we’re doing so. We will all stand before God one day and not matter what some lawyer say, what the Constitution say……God will have the ultimate voice and I just hope what you’ve done down here is correct