Conservatives upset Secular Coalition wants equality for non-profits

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Some of you may be aware how the Secular Coalition for America is wanting equality between secular and religious non-profits, namely churches, when it comes to the privileges that non-profit organizations receive.

The SCA wants churches to be subject to the same rules and regulations that other non-profits are subject to. Well, some in the religious right aren’t too happy about that, specifically the American Center for Law and Justice, a right-wing litigation firm that is basically the conservative version of the ACLU.

In a blog post titled “Atheist Coalition Urges Unconstitutional Government Intrusion into Church Finances,” ACLJ’s Matthew Clark stated, “The [Secular Coalition for America] is pushing a legislative proposal that would bring about radical changes to churches’ long-held tax-exempt status including the possible forced disclosure of donors.”

“Even more disturbing,” he continues, “this push calls for direct government intrusion into the affairs of churches – something the Constitution directly forbids.”

OH NO!!! Churches might have to disclose donors and be subject to oversight from the big, bad government…like literally every other non-profit in the country. The sky is fucking falling!

The ACLJ apparently released a statement detailing how exactly this “intrusion” was unconstitutional, but they fail at even a basic understanding of the Constitution (emphasis mine).

[Putting] the government in a position of authority over churches, by being able to grant or deny their tax exempt statuses, threatens the protections set forth in the Establishment Clause.

Clark reiterates this in the next paragraph (emphasis mine).

And if that isn’t scary enough, “The Coalition’s recommendation ignores the line between church and State and violates the Establishment Clause by suggesting the allowance of severe government entanglement with religion through the IRS.”  The last thing we need right now is to give greater empowerment to the IRS to directly target churches.

I think the term you’re actually looking for is “Free Exercise http://t.qkme.me/35ke38.jpgClause.”

Now sure, they do mention how this proposal would “threaten the Free Exercise rights of every religious congregation in the Nation,” but then why would they continuously mention the Establishment Clause? This situation has nothing to do with the Establishment Clause, but is instead an issue of Equal Protection and Free Exercise.

But I love how the religious right is advocating for separation between church and state, but it’s obviously only when they feel like their privileges as the majority, which they see as “rights” somehow, are being taken away.

It may be true (emphasis on may) that having the IRS, you know, actually regulating churches creates an entanglement with religion, but there is a compelling government interest in creating equality between all non-profits.

If you want the non-profit status in America, then you have to play by certain rules that everyone else is made to follow. We shouldn’t care if it’s a church or anything else. Churches do not get a pass simply because they are churches.

To show how unfair the tax code really is though, look at some of these examples of how easy churches have it compared to secular non-profits.

When American Atheists filed suit against the Internal Revenue Service back in December of 2012, AA claimed, “Groups like American Atheists receive tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) but, because the organization is not classified as religious, it costs American Atheists and other secular non-profits significantly more money each year to maintain that status.”

In a May press release, Edwina Rogers, SCA’s executive director, stated, “Churches and religious organizations are being singled out—for special treatment. Churches and other religious organizations have been using their tax exempt statuses for years to politick from the pulpit are rarely even investigated for their flagrant disregard of IRS law.”

The SCA press release continues:

In fact, churches are heavily insulated against general procedures and investigations that other secular non-profits are subject to. The Church Audit Procedures Act, §7611 of the Internal Revenue Code, stipulates that only “an appropriate high-level Treasury official” can initiate an investigation, if there is suspicion that the church is incompliant with 501(c)(3) requirements. The Act defines “appropriate high-level Treasury official” as “the Secretary of the Treasury or any delegate of the Secretary of the Treasury whose rank is no lower than that of a principal Internal Revenue officer for an internal revenue region.”

In an April report released by the Secular Coalition, they detailed exactly how churches are given special treatment:

  • Religious organizations do not have to inform the public of assets, annual income or expenses through an annual 990.
  • Organizations recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code are subject to limits or absolute prohibitions on engaging in political activities and risk loss of status as tax exempt status if violated, yet hundreds of churches break these laws without being investigated.
  • Even when churches are in violation of IRS rules, the IRS, based on Church Audit Procedures Act of 1984, has special rules that make initiating an audit of churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious entities more difficult than with other secular nonprofits.
  • K-12 schools run by religious organizations, funds or retirement programs run by religious organizations, and religious organizations organized for overseas missionary work do not have to file an annual return.
  • Clergy employed by religious organizations are exempt from owing any income tax on the property that they rent or live in if the property is church-owned.
  • A special tax exemption in the Internal Revenue Code allows a house of worship to provide one or more of its “ministers of the Gospel” to receive tax-free housing or tax-free income equivalent to the rental value of the clergy’s residence.
  • Clergy may also deduct their real estate taxes and mortgage interest from their taxes-as any taxpayer who owns a home may do. But clergy are allowed to do so even if the mortgage interest was paid with the tax-free housing income[3]. This is considered a “double-dip”, and is generally prohibited by the tax code.

Yet somehow churches are somehow going to be “targeted” by the IRS, and those poor Christians and their precious churches are going to be persecuted if they are required to play by the same rules that every other non-profit in the United States must abide by in order to maintain their non-profit status.

When inequality is done away with, it is not taking away someone’s “rights,” it is giving rights to those who were treated unfairly or no longer giving special treatment to some over others.

What the Secular Coalition for America is asking for is not unconstitutional. It is not intrusive into the business of churches. It is not taking away anyone’s right. A failure to recognize that is simply a failure to understand the Constitution and constitutional law.

  • Religious organizations do not have to inform the public of assets, annual income or expenses through an annual 990.
  • Organizations recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code are subject to limits or absolute prohibitions on engaging in political activities and risk loss of status as tax exempt status if violated, yet hundreds of churches break these laws without being investigated.
  • Even when churches are in violation of IRS rules, the IRS, based on Church Audit Procedures Act of 1984, has special rules that make initiating an audit of churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious entities more difficult than with other secular nonprofits.
  • K-12 schools run by religious organizations, funds or retirement programs run by religious organizations, and religious organizations organized for overseas missionary work do not have to file an annual return.
  • Clergy employed by religious organizations are exempt from owing any income tax on the property that they rent or live in if the property is church-owned.
  • A special tax exemption in the Internal Revenue Code allows a house of worship to provide one or more of its “ministers of the Gospel” to receive tax-free housing or tax-free income equivalent to the rental value of the clergy’s residence.
  • Clergy may also deduct their real estate taxes and mortgage interest from their taxes-as any taxpayer who owns a home may do. But clergy are allowed to do so even if the mortgage interest was paid with the tax-free housing income[3]. This is considered a “double-dip”, and is generally prohibited by the tax code.

- See more at: http://secular.org/news/tax-day-secular-americans-congress-end-religious-privileging-tax-code#sthash.VK2eQ9AM.dpuf

Churches and religious organizations are being singled out—for special treatment,” said Edwina Rogers, executive director for the Secular Coalition for America. “Churches and other religious organizations have been using their tax exempt statuses for years to politick from the pulpit are rarely even investigated for their flagrant disregard of IRS law – See more at: http://secular.org/news/atheists-say-irs-not-doing-enough-hold-churches-accountable#sthash.AhbcZ9M2.dpuf
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About Daniel Moran

Daniel Moran, a "sharp-tongued atheist college student" to the Blaze, is a full-time secular activist, student, and nerd being Texas Volunteer Network Coordinator for the Secular Student Alliance, Political Science major at the University of North Texas, and lover of politics and comic books.

Posted on August 5, 2013, in Politics, Religion/Atheism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Deborah Ferry

    I’ve thought for years that all non-profits, secular and religious, should follow the same rules. Our government is suppose to be neutral in regard to religion, so why the favoritism? Of course, those that believe in christian privilege are going to be screaming at just the thought of having to play fair.

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