Sunday, February 1, 2015

The IRS and Politics

As 2016 presidential elections quickly approach, many supporters of political candidates are increasingly advocating for their choices. However one group of people are prohibited from vocalizing their preferences. All religious affiliated organizations are banned from promoting candidates for election or in return will risk losing their annual tax exempt otherwise. The IRS moniters churches and makes sure they don’t abuse their authority over their congregation through sermons or any political comments. However, the article states that as the elections approach, many church officials fear that comments even made by guest speakers can cost them their church. It is important to continue to enforce a separation of church and state. Pastors and religious leaders can misuse their spiritual authority and implicitly impose their political views on their congregation. Unfortunately, some say these tax restrictions conflict with first amendment rights. Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), believes that the IRS selectively chooses which organizations to target and monitor. Despite assisting in educating pastors on their restrictions regarding political views, ADF believes that IRS conflict is unavoidable. The cases they choose to investigate are extremely varied and subjective to factors that many lawyers don’t even understand. These unpredictable risks cause pastors and other religious affiliated leaders to sensor their sermons and personal anecdotes that may relate to their religious practice and teachings.

            Ultimately, separation of church and state and the first amendment are challenged in this unresolved issue. Any citizens of this country has the liberty to express his or her own opinion freely in public and press. However, those who decide to take leadership roles in nonprofit organizations are then separated from the average citizen, and scrutinized for their vocalized views. Does this mean the first amendment rights no longer applies to preachers? The article states that “In the case of Branch Ministries vs. Rossotti, the IRS went after a church that put an ad in USA Today telling Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton. Stanley said that for their defense they submitted hundreds of pages of newspaper articles of churches doing the same thing who were not prosecuted, demonstrating a long history of seemingly arbitrary enforcement”. In a case like this, where political choice was seen as a religious obligation, the election is potentially swayed. But swaying voter’s candidate choices through unpolitical reasoning is not uncommon to the United States. For example, in the Obama vs McCain election of 2008, 97% of African American voters voted for Obama. This is not to undermine his qualification as president. Although, with such high numbers and the social factors of the time, it is reasonable to say that the African American community had other influence regarding their presidential choice, outside of their political preferences. Many celebrities also advocated for Obama, sending the message to their fans on who to vote for. In some ways, it is arguable that celebrities have more power in society than religious leaders. Ultimately, social and personal factors will always sway the poll. I feel that prohibiting the church from vocalizing their opinions during election season is unfair and unrealistic.

I think the government is justified in checking on the types of political messages pastors send out to their congregation. However, I feel that completely limiting their ability to speak on these issues takes away their rights as a citizen in this country. A pastor’s political views do not necessarily represent the entire church.  They should be able to speak individually, as a voting citizen. I think the government should interfere with religious groups when their leaders influence followers to choose candidates based on the promise of salvation. Although separation of church and state protects the government from the influence of the church, we must also remember that religious entities have rights. Churches of any kind should be able to advocate, believe, and promote as they please in the privacy of their own worship. If they do not abuse their relationship with their followers, I don’t see why they cannot advocate for their views.

These issues are important to us all because regardless of religious or nonreligious preference, the government is interfering with the rights of our communities by censoring particular groups of people. Religion is just as much of a personal opinion as a political belief. If we are all free to practice and share our religion, we should as well be granted the ability to speak on political beliefs from a spiritual lense without fear of the government. Churches deserve the same freedom to advocate as celebrities and secular figures do. The rights granted in the constitution should be distributed equally.


Alex L. said...

Nneoma, I believe you are absolutely correct in asserting that religious groups should have the ability to speak or support political causes in much the same way celebrities do. It is frightening that the IRS, which has a history of targeting certain groups of people, can essentially hold the fate of religious groups in the palm of their hand. Yet as has been evidenced time and time again, there is little to no accountability on the part of the very organization which is responsible for taxpayer’s hard earned money. While I understand it can be met will reluctance, I also agree with you that to some extent the government is justified in checking in with the types of messages a leader of a religious group sends out to their congregation, especially in regards to Islamic fundamentalist rhetoric which threatens national security.

Peter M said...

I believe that the government should not be involved in limiting what pastors and religious groups can and cannot say but I also believe that tax exemption status that religious and non profit organizations have is not a constitutionally guaranteed right. But by investigating groups to see which churches can keep there tax exempt status, the government is in the business of promoting certain religions over others which violates the establishment clause.

robert bryson said...

I disagree that religious organizations should have the right to support political causes. As a public congregation that transcends across several associated boundaries, individuals involved in these religious organizations may vary significantly with their political views. The one thing they agree upon are the religious teachings and convictions which organize them together as a congregation. It would be misleading to assume that they also universally agree upon beliefs such as political affiliations that go above and beyond their religious practice.

The right to voice and support political or religious views should be constricted to private individuals or privately held organizations. Religious organizations or publicly held corporations do not represent a unified whole outside of their designated realm.