Thursday, June 13, 2024


     Your church -- and many other organizations -- probably doesn't pay any Federal taxes.  And any donations you make to it are likely tax-deductible.  It's a 501(c)(3) organization to the IRS; they had to file some paperwork and prove they really were a church in order to get that status.

     The history is murky.  26 U.S.C. § 501(c) has been around as long as the IRS but the detailed test IRS uses to help figure out if an applicant is a church or not only dates to 1980.  I'm not finding any quick and easy history of the sixty-seven years between 1913 and '80.

     501(c)(3) status comes with a caveat: the church (or other organization) can't get involved in partisan politics, which IRS reads to mean they can't be for or against any particular candidate or party.  If your church wants to open up for even-handed debate, or make sure people know where their polling places are and what the ballot or voting machine will look like?  Great, go for it!  They just can't tell people who to vote for.  They can't hold rallies against or in support of a party or candidate.  If Pastor Smith wants to hold forth on the evils of being intolerant, or of being too tolerant?  Fine; IRS can't say boo.  But he can't extol the virtues of one candidate or lament the failings of another.

     So I was interested to note recent news that a mega-church in Arizona had hosted a town hall sponsored by a partisan political organization and featuring a candidate for President.  There was some shocked -- shocked, I say -- commentary that the candidate had said a bad word, and the crowd had chanted it back in response, but that's nobody's business but his, the crowd's and the venue's; maybe they're wide open to the wildest of free speech.  Maybe they think it's fun to cuss in church.  On the other hand, while IRS doesn't go hunting around for 501(c)(3) violations, this one is on video and is getting attention.

     Here's how they put it: "The IRS may begin a church tax inquiry only if an appropriate high-level Treasury official reasonably believes, on the basis of facts and circumstances recorded in writing, that an organization claiming to be a church or convention or association of churches may not qualify for exemption[...]."

     Anyone who has been seriously crosswise with our Federal tax officials can tell you: it's no fun.  Why any group would want to wave a red cape at a Federal bull is beyond me, especially when there are plenty of halls to hire that don't have that particular eagle-with-an olive-branch-and-a-balance hanging over them.  Might as well toss an illegally-possessed handgun in the trash and call the cops.


Cop Car said...

It freaks me out that churches get away with tax evasion - whether they cuss or don't cuss.

Joe in PNG said...

It's like the thing on a long road trip where your little brother deliberately antagonizes you until you give 'em a righteous smack, and he follows up by crying to Mom and gets you in trouble.