Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Participating churches protest the limitations imposed upon them by the federal government by openly preaching about candidates and elections and what Scripture says about those currently engaged in an electoral campaign. They say it’s their way of using God’s word – and their freedom of speech – to tell their flock whom they should vote for. Many of these pastors even record their sermon and send it to the IRS to antagonize and make their claim that federal laws cannot contain them.
The IRS has attended to most religious lawbreaking with a hands-off approach. In 2004 it created the Political Activities Compliance Initiative (PACI) which investigated claims of political preaching by churches during the 2004, 2006, and 2008 election cycles. After busting 80 churches and slapping them on the wrists with nothing more than a stern warning, this enforcement endeavor faded into the sunset and saw no investigations or hearings during or following the 2010 elections; nor has the IRS investigated recent breaches, even those of the pastors who self-reported their participation in Pulpit Freedom Sunday.
The IRS’s reasons for allowing non-compliances are two-fold. For starters, sudden enforcement can be perceived to show support for a political party (something the apolitical IRS is keenly afraid of). Secondly, even with declining attendance, Americans still care deeply about their places of worship and, because of that tax, enforcement would be suicide for certain politicians and bureaucrats.
Regardless, this fear of repercussions has to stop. The IRS needs to step up to the plate and make non-compliant churches become complaint, especially since the agency relishes penalizing individual citizens for far lighter transgressions.
Simply put, churches can’t have their cake and eat it, too. They can’t claim separation of church and state and then demand that their members engage the state in very specific ways. Nor can they claim an unabated freedom of speech and an ability to participate in affairs of policy while simultaneously not wanting to make the sacrifices (taxes) that other organizations and individuals must to be afforded the that ability. If they act up, they should pay up — after all, churches are organizations that pride themselves on living by the rules (the Ten Commandments, God’s laws, et al), so it only makes sense that they behave accordingly within the rules that grant them special favor.