Churches Aren't Political Parties, Say Humanists
September 23, 2008
(Washington, D.C., September 23, 2008) Today the American Humanist Association denounced the Alliance Defense Fund's so-called Pulpit Initiative, where the ADF is asking churches to break the law this coming Sunday by deliberately violating the Internal Revenue Service's rule against endorsing candidates for political office.
"If churches can remain tax exempt while endorsing political candidates, what's to prevent political parties from becoming churches in order to give their donors a tax break and keep their donations secret?" asked Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.
The no-electioneering rule prohibits houses of worship from endorsing political candidates for office. While churches have this limitation, they receive a number of special privileges from the government in return. These include relief from income and property taxes, exceptions from certain laws, and their donations don't need to be reported to the government. But if churches could campaign for candidates, the normal campaign contribution reporting requirements wouldn't apply to them.
The Alliance Defense Fund hopes to overturn the IRS rule by generating an IRS investigation of at least one church. In that event, the ADF would sue, claiming that the tax provision is an unconstitutional violation of free speech and freedom of religion. About 80 ministers have expressed interest in participating on Sunday by endorsing candidates from the pulpit.
"Tax-exempt status isn't a right; it's a privilege," said Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association and a civil liberties attorney. "And that's what this is about: the tax-exempt privilege. If Churches wish to endorse candidates, they only have to give up that tax-exemption. They still have the freedom of speech and religious expression to say what they want--they just can't expect taxpayers to cover the church's fair share of the tax burden."
Clergy have been barred from backing political candidates from the pulpit since federal legislation was passed in 1954 that carved out the no-electioneering rule for all non-profits. Legal arguments that circumvent this legislation are considered by many to be weak at best. Moreover, some religious leaders are concerned that religious and government entanglement could result in future regulation of churches and thus a loss of religious liberty and autonomy.
"If churches really want to endorse candidates that badly, they'll get no argument from humanists if they also start paying taxes on the billions they collect in donations each year," added Speckhardt. "But before ministers are coerced by ADF into jeopardizing their tax status, we encourage any democratically-run congregations to weigh this matter and ask their ministers not to take the ADF's advice."
The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.