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Recently, the BCP email has been hit up with requests to post about the California gay community’s efforts to contest the Mormon church’s tax-exempt status. Read all about it here.
Now, OK, I get where this is going in theory and in spirit — a supposedly non-political entity provided an excessive amount of capital and manpower in support of legislation (uh, aka “lobbying”) to deprive a minority group of their rights, so the logical retaliation is to formally question that entity’s authority to do so. However, it simply will not happen. This diary in Daily Kos sums it up pretty succinctly.

But, let’s say that there was some way to actually take the LDS church to the mat for lobbying. Let’s say they do lose their tax-exempt status. They can fucking afford to pay taxes, that’s for damn sure, and the U.S. could sure use those tainted dollars. But, with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, so ….

As one commenter on Daily Kos points out, the loss of tax-exempt status for churches could backfire in ways most of us hadn’t yet considered:

“I’m a pastor – and I think you CAN make a good case that Churches should have their tax status stripped. Recognize, however, that by doing so – you would then remove the prohibition against explicitly endorsing candidates… think churches are involved in politics NOW? Think the GOP has milked the evangelical base for power these past few decades – imagine if there hadn’t been at least that restriction. Think Falwell and Robertson wouldn’t have been even more over the top?

Remove that impediment and, since churches would be directly involved in funding the state, that separation you so correctly wish to maintain would be diminished. So that wouldn’t stop Church involvement in politics – it could actually increase it.”

Scary. Really. However, another Kos commenter makes a pretty compelling case for stripping ALL religions of their tax-exempt status:

“I do not believe that churches should have 501(c)(3) status just because they are churches.

This is a special benefit granted to churches just because they are churches. If I organize a philosophical discussion society and community group, I don’t get it. This is government favoring religion. It is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Churches should have “not-for-profit” status just like social clubs, and indeed political organizations, do. But if they want “tax-deductible” 501(c)(3) status, they should have to be legitimate charitable organizations, and almost no churches in the world actually are.

As long as the Mormons are tax-deductible, every club I’m a member of should also be tax-deductible. Odd — that’s not the case. Hmmm.”

It’s true. I don’t know of a single church that is legitimately charitable. All they seem to do around here is buy up huge swaths of valuable land where they either erect increasingly large, vulgar mega-churches or simply put up random crosses in extremely visible areas. Peep this awful configuration in Baton Rouge:

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But really, the flagrant and tacky displays of wealth are beside the point when talking about these tax-exempt religious institutions. The REAL problem is how 510(c)(3) status infuses the churches unmatchable power in civic matters:

“A “tax exempt” organization is exempt from certain taxes. There are quite a lot of not-for-profit organizations with such exemptions, including social clubs. Most or all not-for-profit organizations are exempt from (business) income tax last I checked, and are often exempt from sales tax as well — this vastly simplifies bake sales.

However, only 501(c)(3) organizations allow you to deduct contributions to them on your personal income tax tax return. So they get a very special bonus from the government. Charities get this, because we want to promote giving to charity. But for some reason so do churches.”

And

“If the two richest churches don’t bust the “substantial part” test by lobbying congress with a financial force that no other citizen group can match, then section 501(c)(3) of the Internal revenue code is in fact a “law respecting an establishment of religion” and giving it immense power over the people, members of the religion or not.

Churches get to use tax-deductible contributions and tax-free earnings to fight the people, and we, the people get no such tax advantages.”

Further explained:

“The problem arises when charities start using their money for non-charitable work. In fundraising for issue advocacy like Prop 8, a 501(c)(3) charity gets a huge headstart toward fundraising, because their supporters get a tax deduction, and their earnings grow tax free. Can any supporter of the NO on 8 campaign claim a tax deduction for their contributions to the fight? NO. So is it fair for the government to subsidize the Yes on 8 campaign by allowing THEIR supporters a tax deduction? Hell no.

I don’t advocate stripping the Mormon church’s tax exempt status. They clearly complied with the law, so there is no reason to strip them. The problem here is not that the Mormons or Catholics broke the law. The problem is that the law itself is broken. If the tax law effectively subsidizes the political activities of the two most conservative, enormous churches in the country, then the law needs to change, so that we are playing on a level playing field.

No supporter of the NO on 8 campaign (or any other political campaign or “Issue advocacy) should get a tax deduction for that political activity unless we ALL get tax deduction for our political contributions ON BOTH SIDES OF EVERY ISSUE.”

WORD. The system is broken. The question is really not “Do we strip the LDS church of their tax-exempt status?” but “How do we revise tax laws so that no one group with tremendous wealth and influence gets a free pass to pervert the law in order to impose a religious belief onto the masses?”

Thoughts? Comment!

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