Recent editorial on religious free speech obscures the real answers

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The Augusta Chronicle’s recent editorial “Stand for religious free speech” (Aug. 16) opened with two questions, both of which can be answered without resorting to the misinformation and innuendo in the editorial.

The first question was, “When does a church sermon become ‘too political’?” Your answer to the question is buried deep in your editorial – that “clergy are free to preach and promote anything short of an outright endorsement of a political candidate.” If you knew the answer, why was it necessary to surround it with all that misdirection?

The second question was, “More importantly, who gets to decide?” That requires a bit more explanation to arrive at the answer, which again was arrived at correctly but through a tunnel of innuendo and half-truths.

Indeed, the Internal Revenue Service does get to decide because the whole issue is a tax issue. The IRS does not get to “censor” speech from the pulpit, but it does have the responsibility of enforcing the federal tax code, which says that 501(c)(3) organizations, whose contributions are tax-deductible for the donor, cannot participate in campaigning for a political candidate for any office.

IF A PASTOR wishes to campaign from the pulpit, it simply means that his/her church gives up its 501(c)(3) status and that donations to that church are no longer tax deductible. The pastor is free to speak as he/she sees fit. He/she will not be arrested for anything he/she says.

In fact, the Sierra Club decided to give up its 501(c)(3) years ago for a 501(c)(4) so that it could endorse candidates. Donations to the Sierra Club have not been tax-deductible since the Sierra Club made that decision, but it seems to have had little effect on the influence of the Sierra Club. Maybe some churches would prefer to be able to endorse candidates and would be willing to sacrifice their 501(c)(3) status.

No other 501(c)(3)s (United Way, Audubon, Salvation Army, Goodwill, Americans United) are allowed to endorse candidates because contributions to those organizations are tax-deductible, and such contributions must not be used to advance partisan politics. We have political action committees for that.

A 501(C)(3) STATUS is granted by the IRS to an organization because the IRS deems the mission of the organization to be beneficial to its community. The mission of most churches is religion, which is presumed by the IRS to be a beneficial mission. The IRS also assumes that a church is a nonprofit organization. That assumption is a huge advantage for churches because other nonprofits are required to submit Form 990s to the IRS to essentially prove that they are nonprofits. Churches are not required to do that. Maybe they should be to show that they are indeed nonprofits.

In recent years, the IRS has not been enforcing the endorsement prohibition on churches, apparently because of political pressure. But there are signs this may be changing, and the IRS recently signaled that it has an enforcement mechanism in place.

It is apparent from The Chronicle’s editorial that the editorial staff is a bit confused by the different clauses in the First Amendment to the Constitution. They have conflated the freedom of speech clause with the separation of church and state clauses, but nowhere in the First Amendment is there a “freedom from taxation” clause that the editorial seems to assume.

While you may not agree with the mission of groups that support church-state separation, in this case they have a valid point. Tax-free donations should not be used to support specific candidates.

(The writer is president of the Central Savannah River Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.)

Comments (16) Add comment
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deestafford
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deestafford 08/30/14 - 10:53 pm
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Three points:

Three points:

First. We are concerned about the hypocritical double standard of black churches being a hot bed of political activities varying from having liberal, democratic candidates as speakers during church services and encouraging members to vote for him to voters taken en mass to voting polling places.

Second. There is no phrase in the Constitution about the separation of church and state. It is, as I'm sure the writer knows, contained in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Church. It is the only time that the Supreme Court has ever used a piece of private, personal correspondence as a basis for a Supreme Court decision.

Third. The writer cannot show any where in the writings of the Founders (original sourcing, not what some body said the Founders said or wrote.) that support the concept of "separation of church and state" as currently being applied. As a matter of fact, their writings show just the opposite.

hoptoad
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hoptoad 08/31/14 - 08:40 am
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And there is no freedom

And there is no freedom "from" religion, it's written freedom "of" religion.

If there is a mechanism in place to remove tax-free status from churches, it certainly isn't happening in the black churches. They continue to do their campaigning from the pulpit. The Catholic church also does a good job of campaigning, not quite as obvious as black churches. I am from a LARGE Catholic family so I do have some first-hand knowledge.

The Catholic churches, as well as the black churches, usually endorses democrats. Therein lies the reason the IRS has not made an all out effort to repeal their status.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 08/31/14 - 08:42 am
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Separate the churches hand from the guvmit's money. U think?
Unpublished

Not in our lifetime. You cannot serve God and Money.

soapy_725
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soapy_725 08/31/14 - 08:44 am
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You have made this house of prayer a den of thieves....
Unpublished

You have made this house of prayer a den of thieves....

dichotomy
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dichotomy 08/31/14 - 11:26 am
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"But there are signs this may

"But there are signs this may be changing, and the IRS recently signaled that it has an enforcement mechanism in place."

Apparently they only intend to use it in white conservative churches.

hoptoad
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hoptoad 08/31/14 - 01:29 pm
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Yep, Dichotomy.

Yep, Dichotomy.

OJP
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OJP 08/31/14 - 06:49 pm
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@hoptoad

How many times does this have to be shown to be clearly and unambiguously wrong before folks like you will quit parroting misinformation?

There are two religion clauses in the First Amendment. Two.

(1) "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

(2) "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]."

#1 is the Establishment Clause (the "from"), #2 is the Free Exercise Clause (the "of").

It's right there in the plain language of the amendment...

OJP
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OJP 08/31/14 - 06:13 pm
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@deestafford

Define "currently being applied".

hoptoad
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hoptoad 08/31/14 - 06:29 pm
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OJP - that's what I said it's

OJP - that's what I said it's "of" not "from". What is it that's confusing to you?

deestafford
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deestafford 08/31/14 - 06:37 pm
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OJP

OJP. The Founders meant that the federal government and the federal government only could not establish a denomination as a religion. It did not prevent the states from doing so.

"Currently applied" means ever since 1947 in "Everson v. Board of Education" when the Supreme Court ruled that there is "The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state...." and the increasing hostility shown by courts to public displays of religion. "Everson" was the first case since the writing of the Constitution that had ruled about that separation. Before, all other attempts had been shot down by the courts.

OJP
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OJP 08/31/14 - 06:43 pm
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@deestafford

14th Amendment

OJP
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OJP 08/31/14 - 06:45 pm
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@hoptoad

It's both. Read the First Amendment. Here, I'll even give you a link: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Cons...

corgimom
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corgimom 08/31/14 - 07:56 pm
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deestafford, I've seen it in

deestafford, I've seen it in white churches, too. It's not limited to black churches.

deestafford
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deestafford 08/31/14 - 08:36 pm
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OJP and Cogi

OJP, What does the 14th Amendment have to do with it? Many people believe Everson was wrongly decided and is in contradiction of the original intent of the Founders.

There are no writings of the Founders which support the outcome in Everson. I remember reading that when the justice writing the majority opinion of Everson had finished he basically told his staff and others of his irk that that will put the Christians in their place.

If you can cite any quotations from the Founders that support Everson's outcome I'd like to read them.

Cogi, It may very well happen in white churches but it is not nearly as prevalent as it is in the black churches. If I were to preach a sermon I could do it by talking on the issues without ever mentioning a candidate or party by name and get my point across.

I just think too many pastors have lost their guts and don't want people squirming in their seats and being made to feel uncomfortable.

historylover
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historylover 08/31/14 - 10:04 pm
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deestafford

"First. We are concerned about the hypocritical double standard of black churches being a hot bed of political activities varying from having liberal, democratic candidates as speakers during church services and encouraging members to vote for him to voters taken en mass to voting polling places."

As opposed to what? From what you've written here it sounds like you would be fine it they had conservative, republican candidates. What are you afraid of? The Democrats actually winning again? I don't even know what you're thinking.

"The Founders meant that the federal government and the federal government only could not establish a denomination as a religion."

When exactly did you speak to the "Founders" and who exactly told you what they meant? Again, I am confused.

JustAJoe
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JustAJoe 09/01/14 - 03:54 am
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Establishment Clause

Despite what some have said here there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is the "Establishment Clause" which bans any government establishment of religion. Many of the colonist came here because they did not want the government telling them how to practice religion or promoting the governments version. Hindu, Muslim, Church of England - whatever. I am sure many non-Christians feel there are efforts to establish Christianity as a state religion.

If you want a theocracy there is a ready made one for you in Iran. What? Not your religion? Maybe yours isn't mine either.

carcraft
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carcraft 09/01/14 - 04:56 am
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Kennedy got wins in southern

Kennedy got wins in southern elections because of preacher voting lists. Not only did black ministers promote candidates from the pulpits they gave out lists of who to vote for. The local law enforcement dolled out the cash (with a cut for himself) and the list. This really wasn't an issue for liberals until conservatives started organizing in church's. The same with the tea party and of course the IRS and courts are great places to enforce liberal concepts. Look at the clear wording of the affordable care act conferning health care insurance subsidies and yet the court seems divided. Or the fact that the ACA clearly state the penalty isn't a tax yet Roberts found a tax in there. Look at Lois Learner's emails being destroyed in violation of federal laws and regulations, gee that seems just OK as the lame stream media yawns.

leawords
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leawords 09/01/14 - 10:16 am
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Perhaps. . .

Mr. Carl, it might be more effective if you were to send this letter to Reverend Wright - President Obama's pastor - and ask HIM if HIS tax-exempt status was revoked. The main issue here, is, if the government is going to "tax" churches with non-political speech, then the government must do so FAIRLY, and we all know there is no such thing as "fairness" when it comes to government doctrines in this administration. Besides, the essence of American Revolution began at the pulpit. We would all still be British subjects had it not been for a few brave pastors.

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