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Source: (consider it) Thread: Legal Limits on Politics from the Pulpit
stonespring
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This is prompted by a US political news story, but I'm wondering what the situation is in other countries. President Trump is expected to sign an executive order directing the IRS (the US Federal tax collection agency) to be as lenient as possible in cases of churches suspected of endorsing a political candidate.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/03/us/politics/trump-religion-executive-order-gay-rights.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytc ore-iphone-share

There is a law that only Congress can repeal, called the Johnson Amendment after President Johnson, that lets the IRS withdraw the tax-free status of churches that endorse political candidates. Many churches come very close to doing so anyway, and as far as I know only one has ever lost its tax exempts status for it (in 1992), although the IRS has at least investigated other churches for their political activity. In the US, churches regularly run voter registration drives, mobilize people to vote on election day, invite political candidates to speak at religious services (where they often promote their own campaigns), take sides on specific legislation (as opposed to candidates/parties), and even make sweeping statements about the morality of supporting specific political issues (often about sexual morality but sometimes economic issues, too, and issues of church and state). The legal line is drawn at explicitly endorsing a candidate for elected office.

How are things different in other countries? What do you think the laws should be regarding churches and clergy who endorse political candidates, parties, legislation, and causes?

[ 04. May 2017, 12:30: Message edited by: stonespring ]

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Sipech
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Legally, I'm not sure there's any restriction here in the UK. Each denomination may have its own rules though it's common convention to be seen to be impartial, even though there's usually a nod-and-wink approach to endorsing a candidate which is more transparent than a sheet of glass.

For the US, I must admit I'm surprised, as it would seem to be an infringement of both free speech and of state meddling in church affairs.

Personally, I prefer people to be extremely open and frank about their positions. For example, before the 2015 general election, there was a talk given on "how christians might approach thinking about the election" which was given by a someone I knew to be a card-carrying member of the Conservative party, but where their affiliation was not stated prior to them giving the talk. I was not impressed with this. Had they been honest about this, and had given an opportunity to respond to a person of a different political persuasion, then that would have felt a bit more even and above board.

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Alan Cresswell

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The church can't help but be political if it's to be true to it's calling. A message of "feed the hungry, cloth the naked, house the homeless, care for the sick etc" can't be anything but political. There will be times when churches will be supporting particular political campaigns.

However, that needn't be party political. I would be uncomfortable with anyone in church leadership endorsing a particular candidate or party, especially within the context of worship. That would include inviting a candidate to address the church - holding a debate with all the candidates invited would be a different, and entirely admirable, thing. I think churches should be encouraging their members to participate in the political process - facilitate thinking about political issues, encouraging and supporting voting, writing to representatives about policy issues between elections, even church members standing for election (with the understanding that the church won't specifically endorse their candidacy).

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orfeo

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quote:
Originally posted by stonespring:
What do you think the laws should be regarding churches and clergy who endorse political candidates, parties, legislation, and causes?

I don't think there should be any law about it whatsoever. There might be some argument for a law relating to charities but not churches.

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Net Spinster
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I'll note that in the US churches do not have to report how they are spending their money to the tax servce unlike other non-profits.. How much tax deductible donated money would some churches spend on political campaigns? Would some 'churches' just be fronts for candidates?

Note pastors are free to endorse candidates they just could not do so using church funds or the church pulpit.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Sipech:
For the US, I must admit I'm surprised, as it would seem to be an infringement of both free speech and of state meddling in church affairs.

Not really. Just an understanding that if churches want to get involved in partisan politics like everyone else, they have to pay taxes to support the system like everyone else. It should be noted that the Johnson Amendment applies to all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations, which includes not just churches but also other charitable organizations and colleges/universities. I'm not sure it qualifies as "infringing" anyone's rights to tie a tax break to specific behavior, especially since the tax break in question is already dependent on the organizations foregoing certain behavior (i.e. turning a profit).

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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Churches have limited influence if it is from the pulpit. The real target should be corporations which have money, purchased influence, media, sponsorship publicity. Manufactured consent isn't something churches do.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Net Spinster:
I'll note that in the US churches do not have to report how they are spending their money to the tax servce unlike other non-profits.. How much tax deductible donated money would some churches spend on political campaigns? Would some 'churches' just be fronts for candidates?

Undoubtedly. In fact, churches could easily replace superPACs as campaign tools since they'd be able to offer their contributors something ordinary political organizations could not: a tax deduction for political contributions. Contributions to churches are considered charitable donations under U.S. tax law (in other words, a tax deduction) while contributions directly to candidates or to political action groups are not.

Given this situation, why wouldn't political contributors prefer to funnel their money through a religious organization if they can achieve the same end result?

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by no prophet's flag is set so...:
Churches have limited influence if it is from the pulpit. The real target should be corporations which have money, purchased influence, media, sponsorship publicity. Manufactured consent isn't something churches do.

But it's something churches could do, with the proposed changes to the tax code. If you're a corporation that wants to purchase influence through media buys, wouldn't you prefer to do it in a way that you can also write off on your taxes as a charitable donation?

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Humani nil a me alienum puto

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Baptist Trainfan
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quote:
Originally posted by Alan Cresswell:
The church can't help but be political if it's to be true to it's calling. ... ... I think churches should be encouraging their members to participate in the political process - facilitate thinking about political issues, encouraging and supporting voting, writing to representatives about policy issues between elections, even church members standing for election (with the understanding that the church won't specifically endorse their candidacy).

As so often, we agree!
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Brenda Clough
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Churches in the US get massive breaks from the government. Not only do donations to them get tax-free status. They get breaks on property and real estate taxes, zoning preferences -- all kinds of support.
Although they are required to stay out of politics in fact this law is almost never enforced. Kooky political statements come out almost daily from various preachers. Ministers stand all the time beside candidates, open meetings with prayer, etc. Even preaching overtly from the pulpit in favor of one candidate or another usually passes.
The key thing is to never confront your congregation with anything they won't like. Thus, although we attend a conservative church in a dark-blue district, our rector is careful to keep his opinions vague. Those who have ears to hear can see that he loathes Tiny Fingers, as any sane father of daughters would. But he will never say so aloud, because their are congregation members who would go ballistic.
So although Lyin' Don is tinkering with the rules it's unlikely to have any great effect.

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cliffdweller
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mostly agree-- just a few tweaks:

quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Churches in the US get massive breaks from the government. Not only do donations to them get tax-free status. They get breaks on property and real estate taxes, zoning preferences -- all kinds of support.

Agree on tax supports, you also left out tax-free clergy housing allowances which is quite a boon to lowly paid clergy. In the big scheme of things-- the vast $$ raked in thru all sorts of preferential treatment of corporations-- it really is small potatoes. But it is a very real benefit, however tiny.

Zoning preferences these days work the other way round-- many churches find city planning commissions openly hostile to churches and prone to denying any building permits-- precisely because of the tax implications.


quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Although they are required to stay out of politics in fact this law is almost never enforced.

It's actually enforced very haphazardly, and usually with political motive. In the upswing to the Iraq War, a local Episcopal priest preached a sermon which mentioned no names but simply laid out the biblical case for peacekeeping, and urged congregants to keep that in mind in their voting. That church was under costly investigation by the IRS for 5 years, despite the fact that other, more conservative clergy were explicitly endorsing Bush or other Republican pro-life candidates. There are probably examples of the reverse happening under Democratic administrations. The fact that it's haphazardly and politically enacted only makes it more difficult for clergy to speak out at all.


quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:

The key thing is to never confront your congregation with anything they won't like. .

I think/hope you are being sarcastic here.

[ 04. May 2017, 16:32: Message edited by: cliffdweller ]

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Lamb Chopped
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Chiming in...

Yes, churches may be discriminated against by city councils etc. The city I grew up in had only two churches, and only got the second one (mine) after the founding pastor agreed to go chop down about a half-acre of weeds on a vacant corner lot by hand. The lot bore no relationship to the church or its site--I think maybe they were just testing to see if he'd go away.

Re pastor's housing allowances--yes, you get the tax exemption on that part of your income (assuming of course you used it for housing) but you may lose as much or more because the IRS deems you to be self-employed, which means you get to pay both the employee and the employer half of Social Security tax.

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Crœsos
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quote:
Originally posted by Lamb Chopped:
Re pastor's housing allowances--yes, you get the tax exemption on that part of your income (assuming of course you used it for housing) but you may lose as much or more because the IRS deems you to be self-employed, which means you get to pay both the employee and the employer half of Social Security tax.

In other words, treated like temps or workers in the "gig economy" who are considered contractors instead of employees.

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gog
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In the UK churches political activity is limited by the "Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act"; also that the Charity Commission is clear that charities must never support a political party.

So political issues is fine, but party is not.

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Enoch
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Stonespring, as you may well have picked up from the experience of these boards, each country has its own politics. Countries are often more different from each other than they realise. So the assumptions, expectations and preconceptions each country's citizens work under can be remarkably different from those in another country which appears to be using the same words, even.

For example, the phrase 'a not-for-profit' isn't one that has a legal meaning here. An organisation is either a charity - which does have a legal meaning and brings it within a demanding legal regime - or it isn't. To be a charity, an organisation has to have charitable objects and the Charity Commission vets these objects to make sure they fit.

A charity cannot trade for profit, but can have an associated company that does, and which makes over all its profits to the holding charity. A charity can end up with a surplus. If so, its trustees can't pocket it. It has to spend that money within its objects.

Charities can't be set up explicitly to campaign. They have to do charity, not just advocate it. If they go too far out of line on this, they will be acting outside their objects. So it's more likely that it's those that are responsible who will be personally at risk. If, for example, a charity purported to make a political donation, rather than the charity losing its charitable status, I suspect what would happen would be that the Charity Commission would require those responsible for deciding to make the payment to pay it back out of their own pockets.

So Stonespring, is that helpful? I suspect it may be describing something that is structured very differently to what you know.

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stonespring
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Two news stories of relevance:

1. Here is one case of the US Johnson Amendment having been used to investigate a left-leaning Episcopal congregation for an anti-Iraq War sermon that was also critical of Bush administration policies in general.

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/nov/07/local/me-allsaints7

2. Here are religious' leaders' decisions to endorse or not endorse candidates in the current French Presidential Runoff.

http://religionnews.com/2017/05/04/french-clerics-stands-on-le-pen-populism-range-from-resistance-to-reserve/

Interestingly, the leaders of French Huguenot, Muslim, and Jewish communities are all explicitly telling people to vote for Macron. Not sure what the laws are about that in France.

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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quote:
Originally posted by Crœsos:
quote:
Originally posted by no prophet's flag is set so...:
Churches have limited influence if it is from the pulpit. The real target should be corporations which have money, purchased influence, media, sponsorship publicity. Manufactured consent isn't something churches do.

But it's something churches could do, with the proposed changes to the tax code. If you're a corporation that wants to purchase influence through media buys, wouldn't you prefer to do it in a way that you can also write off on your taxes as a charitable donation?
I'd be okay with it re churches if it is okay for companies. After riding through a park with a Cameco (uranium) sponsored playground, BHP children's rides (potash mining). Maybe later I will go swimming at the Shaw Centre (cable TV and internet). All of these sponsorships are tax deductable for the corporations. There's a literature about how this manufactures publi consent.

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Brenda Clough
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Here is a discussion of the legislation, and how the new executive order changes it. A free click, and it also discusses why Lyin' Don's move may not be the favor he thinks it is. Everything he touches dies. The evangelical support of this creature will stain the church for a lifetime.

[ 05. May 2017, 15:21: Message edited by: Brenda Clough ]

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lilBuddha
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quote:
Originally posted by Brenda Clough:
Here is a discussion of the legislation, and how the new executive order changes it. A free click, and it also discusses why Lyin' Don's move may not be the favor he thinks it is. Everything he touches dies. The evangelical support of this creature will stain the church for a lifetime.

This order is, as the article says, a gift to evangelical leaders who held the cross over the cracks in his campaign. Many are as narcissistic and uncaring of the average person as he is. I hope they lose followers to more rational churches and I hope those followers rally towards sanity.

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cliffdweller
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quote:
Originally posted by lilBuddha:
This order is, as the article says, a gift to evangelical leaders who held the cross over the cracks in his campaign. Many are as narcissistic and uncaring of the average person as he is. I hope they lose followers to more rational churches and I hope those followers rally towards sanity.

That is my hope as well, but the evidence suggests instead they will lose their followers to disbelief. They have been presented a false gospel and will rightly reject it but also all that bear the same name.

As much as I hate the "true Church" rhetoric, we need to rebrand as some version of "the really true Good News of the really true Jesus who is not at all the one you heard about." And while we're at it, let's rebrand "pro-life" as "the really true pro-life that isn't, surprisingly, pro-death, and means all life is sacred and not just white American fetuses".

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