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Maryland Congressman Files Lawsuit That Could End Tax-Free Status Of Churches Involved In Politics.

by Jean Ann Esselink on August 21, 2013

in Actions,Jean Ann Esselink,Legal Issues,News

Post image for Maryland Congressman Files Lawsuit That Could End Tax-Free Status Of Churches Involved In Politics.

Ever since Rep. Darrell Issa cried “Scandal!” upon discovering the IRS had targeted groups with the words “Tea Party” or “Conservative” in their title, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell has been beseeching Washington to take a look at the law that the IRS was operating under. Unfortunately, before he could make much headway, the conversation was co-opted by the revelation that the IRS also targeted groups with “Progressive” in their title.

Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings accused Rep. Issa of purposely withholding the information, in an attempt to make President Obama appear to have been targeting his enemies. And before Issa could say “impeachment” he was defending his rear flank when Rep. Cummings released the proof Issa had kept hidden.

The mud slinging was great “govertainment”, but lost in the depantsing of Rep. Issa was Lawrence O’Donnell’s important observation: the IRS was operating under the authority of a law that says any group given tax-exempt status from the IRS must be “exclusively” involved in “social welfare”. They can have no political involvement. The IRS testimony shows they changed the word “exclusively” to “primarily” and then ordered their agents to determine if the group applying for tax-exempt status had less than 50% of its activity involved with politics.

chris Van HollenToday, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen (right) filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to “clarify” the IRS obligation under that law. Is the IRS supposed to deny every group involved in politics tax free status? Or are they supposed to determine if a group’s activities are less than 50% political?

What is the meaning of “exclusively”?

If the Court decides the agency was wrong when they changed “exclusively” to “primarily”, a whole lot of churches are going to have to get their noses out of politics, or start paying taxes. The Mormons, the Catholics and the Baptists alone would be on the hook for a tidy sum. Perhaps we could use the unexpected windfall to restore the Head Start cuts or to replace the food assistance funding in the Farm Bill the Republicans refused to pass. How is that for irony?

We’ll keep you updated on the proceedings.

 

Feature Image from freedigitalimages,net
Rep. Van Hollen’s photo is from  Facebook

 

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tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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{ 10 comments }

Mykelbarber August 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Finally after 50 years.

SeanLiberty13 August 21, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Hear, Hear!!!! Put up or shut up!!!

TomTallis August 21, 2013 at 9:21 pm

It'll get thrown out. Just wait…

stemke2010 August 21, 2013 at 9:32 pm

If these churches want to stick their noses in politics then they need to pay their entry fee like everyone else.

bruwhhh August 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Tax the noisy self-righteous Churches that insist on sticking their noses in politics. Force them back to what they should be doing "whatever that is" That would really put a kink in Westboro Baptist Cult

buricco August 22, 2013 at 2:28 am

ALL religious groups should be taxed as for-profit corporations – all of them. No exceptions, not even for charity work.

pogonip August 22, 2013 at 5:38 am

Certainly there's no doubt that politically active organizations should be tax-paying organizations, but churches should be paying taxes anyway. Churches enjoy the same services that other property owners in the municipality (township, county, or state) do, but without contributing to the maintenance and repair of the infrastructure. We are not so prosperous that we, as a nation, can afford to support churches and other non-profit organizations. Even the poorest of us still have to pay property taxes, and so should these churches. Italy has ended the tax exemption for churches, surely the U.S. could — and should — do the same.

bndkllr2 August 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I love how so many of these conservatives keep screaming, "Be self sufficient! Don't take government funds!" But then they take advantage of EVERY government perk they can. Especially when it involves funneling church money into politics, just like corporate money is used, thanks to Citizens United. I say, if you are going to raise money to smear a minority and take away our legal protections to live the way we are, you should have to ante up like the rest of us and pay taxes for it!

James_M_Martin August 22, 2013 at 11:51 pm

For a very long time now, I have argued, both in these pages and elsewhere, that the IRS proscription of involvement in politics is under-enforced and without teeth, if only because of a shortage of manpower (one of the service's claims) and lack of will (church-state separationist claims). The problem is deeper than that, unfortunately. The IRS ban on political activity by religious organizations only extends to espousal of a particular candidacy over others, rather a one-party problem since we do not see many churches supporting candidates with anything but religious right (Tea Party, Roman Catholic, and evangelical) positions. The IRS has shown great reluctance to go after those religious groups whose pastors, ministers, and preachers — I like to call the whole of them "The Priesthood," with no RCC connotations — who merely sermonize on, say, "If you do not vote for the Republican ticket, you may be going to Hell." In my book, this should be a prime candidate for revocation of tax exempt status. But I would argue that it is not enough to halt pulpit campaigning for not only particular candidates and parties but also positions: issue espousal. Since, obviously, the conservatives in congress advocating repeal of "Roe v. Wade" are mostly Republican, when a cleric pulpitizes about abortion, he is taking a conservative Republican stance and his church should lose its status. (Yes, there are plenty of misogynistic Democrats as well, so the crackdown would have to be on a case by case basis. Yet it is difficult for me to imagine, say, a Unitarian Universalist lambasting homosexuality or abortion without exceptions, if any.) Issue proscription is what is needed. The Priesthood should not be allowed to take political positions, not just barred from support of a particular candidate or party. And if the service needs more agents, we should spend less on defense (even the Pentagon says they can do without some of the money they're getting) and more on IRS enforcement.

LEOINTHESUN August 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm

That would be wonderful…

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