In his letter, Mr. Wilson states that churches taking a stand on moral issues as “abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage or any other moral political issue” are violating the terms of their tax exempt status as a non-profit organization. He goes on to say that “according to the law...your church must, as a ‘not for profit’ organization, espouse only public policy…established by the government and the courts.”
As proof of his position, Mr. Wilson refers to Bob Jones University’s loss of its tax exempt status in 1983. In fact, Bob Jones University did not lose its tax exempt status for speaking out on ‘moral political’ issues. The university actually lost its tax exempt status for racial discrimination in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling in 1970 which extended antidiscrimination law to cover tax exempt organizations. In 2008 the university finally apologized for its “racially hurtful policies.” Mr. Wilson also refers to a quote from a US federal prosecutor: “An uncontrolled church in America is untenable.” The only reference I can find to such a quote came during the seizure of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple’s assets by the IRS in 1983 to settle the church’s tax dept.
This occurred because the church gave up its tax exempt status and decided it would not pay any taxes at all.
Not even those required by IRS regulations to be withheld from a tax exempt organization’s employees, including Medicare and Social Security.
It is interesting to note both of these incidents did not occur under a Liberal or Progressive government, but during the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan.
The federal prosecutor to which Mr. Wilson refers, also known as a U.S. Attorney, would have been a presidential appointee; one appointed to that position by President Reagan. Mr. Wilson’s intimation that a church is prohibited from speaking out on social/moral issues, or is somehow muzzled by their tax exempt status, is simply not correct. If it were, the Catholic Church would have lost its tax exempt status over its stand on abortion a long time ago.
The same would have happened to the Mormon Church over its stand on same sex marriage. The only thing a church is prohibited from doing, without risking the loss of its tax exempt status, is officially endorse a political candidate or party, campaign on behalf of a candidate, or instruct congregational members on who to vote for in an election.
No one wants government involved in their religion. The best way to keep this from happening is to prevent religion from becoming involvement in government. In the United States of America this is done by maintaining a strong wall of separation between church and state.
Bruce Gordon, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lebanon, Tenn.