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What Church Political Activities Are Allowed Under Federal Tax Exemption For Churches?


KevinG

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(Please don't turn this into a discussion about a particular issue... this is meant to be purely about what the LDS church can and cannot do legally under IRS law.)

Posters arguing for or against the LDS church involvement in ballot initiatives were discussing the freedom the church has under its tax exempt status to be involved in politics. I found the following letter from the Alliance Defense Fund for pastors and churches to be informative. http://www.mnvoter.com/documents/PastorsGuidelines031411.pdf

From the bulletin:

"Speech about public issues may incidentally influence elections, but the government is far more

limited in its ability to restrict discussion about issues. Churches may speak out about social and moral

issues, the actions of government officials in office, and the positions of candidates on issues. As long

as a church does not endorse or oppose a specific candidate for public office, it has broad freedom to

praise or criticize officials and candidates."

Item 13. Lobbying for or against legislation. Churches may spend an “insubstantial” amount of their funds yearly on

lobbying. An insubstantial amount is generally considered 5 to 15 percent of a church’s funds. Lobbying is of two types:

(1) direct lobbying, which involves direct communications with governmental officials regarding legislative or executive

action, and (2) grass roots lobbying, where the church communicates with its members or the general public, urging them to contact governmental officials in support of or in opposition to legislative or executive action. As a result, a church may discuss legislative issues, support or oppose legislation, encourage its members or the general public to support or oppose legislation, and support other organizations with their lobbying efforts. Furthermore, churches may lobby candidates about issues and distribute educational material to candidates or at political events, as long as this is being done to get out the church’s message and not to assist any candidate.

Item 14. Expenditures related to state referendums. Churches may make expenditures in connection with state

referendums, including making a financial or in-kind contribution to a referendum effort. Such expenditures are considered direct lobbying. In addition, state election laws should be consulted for any requirements imposed on state referendum activities.

It appears that legally the LDS church is on firm ground with the efforts regarding ERA, Prop 8 and other public issue advocacy. Ironically the LDS church could not endorse Mitt Romney (or any other candidate) under these statutes.

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The LDS church involvement by giving in kind donations of media resources and asking members to take a stand personally falls well withing the "insubstantial amount" definition of the IRS.

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It depends. If you're a Southern Baptist preacher, you can invite candidates to appear behind your pulpit and give overtly political speeches.

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It depends. If you're a Southern Baptist preacher, you can invite candidates to appear behind your pulpit and give overtly political speeches.

Likewise, if you are a pastor from a privileged minority you can host political fundraisers and campaign events, spend thirty years spouting racist sedition, treason, and insurrection, and still be invited in as the President's "special" policy advisor without violating your tax exempt status.

You can also dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal tax liability, foment (fraudulent) race riots that end in widspread property destruction, bloodshed and even murder and still get a prime-time slot on MSNBC commenting on politics and policy.

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I think this should be brought into the discussion. What do the offical scriptures of the Church say is and isnt fair game re: politics and governments?

D&C Section 134

A declaration of belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a general assembly of the Church held at Kirtland, Ohio, 17 August 1835 (see History of the Church, 2:247–49). The occasion was a meeting of Church leaders, brought together to consider the proposed contents of the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. At that time, this declaration was given the following preamble: “That our belief with regard to earthly governments and laws in general may not be misinterpreted nor misunderstood, we have thought proper to present, at the close of this volume, our opinion concerning the same” (History of the Church, 2:247).

1–4, Governments should preserve freedom of conscience and worship; 5–8, All men should uphold their governments and owe respect and deference to the law; 9–10, Religious societies should not exercise civil powers; 11–12, Men are justified in defending themselves and their property.

1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

3 We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign.

4 We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

6 We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men owe respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.

7 We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege, or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions do not justify sedition nor conspiracy.

8 We believe that the commission of crime should be punished according to the nature of the offense; that murder, treason, robbery, theft, and the breach of the general peace, in all respects, should be punished according to their criminality and their tendency to evil among men, by the laws of that government in which the offense is committed; and for the public peace and tranquility all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment.

9 We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.

10 We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

11 We believe that men should appeal to the civil law for redress of all wrongs and grievances, where personal abuse is inflicted or the right of property or character infringed, where such laws exist as will protect the same; but we believe that all men are justified in defending themselves, their friends, and property, and the government, from the unlawful assaults and encroachments of all persons in times of exigency, where immediate appeal cannot be made to the laws, and relief afforded.

12 We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

(Bolding mine)

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Claiming that a religious society is fostering rights that proscribe the rights of another may very well depend on where you are sitting. That is why it is so difficult to pin down where the airspace at the end of your fist is restricted from the end of my nose.

Even so... the debates we have over those arenas where conflict arises are nothing like the problems with state religions in Europe and the Middle East.

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Claiming that a religious society is fostering rights that proscribe the rights of another may very well depend on where you are sitting. That is why it is so difficult to pin down where the airspace at the end of your fist is restricted from the end of my nose.

Even so... the debates we have over those arenas where conflict arises are nothing like the problems with state religions in Europe and the Middle East.

Is it just to assert "religious influence" against groups (non-religious societies) that we disagree with, all-la Prop 8?

Or does the protection in verse 9 only apply to "religious societies"? For example if Gays and Lesbians were to incorporate as a "religious society" would the churchs involvment in Prop. 8 then have violated verse 9?

Perhaps verse 6 gives us an out clause?

re: verse 9 and religious societies is directly linked to the religious freedom clauses in the constitution and bill of rights.

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Personally I think the church has every right to speak out about political issues such as prop 8 as long as they follow the tax codes that are outlined by the IRS. In the case of prop 8, I think the church did follow such guidelines.

As to the question of whether or not it was a wise choice, seems to be up for debate. Personally I feel the churches support for prop 8 was extremely bad for the church. By taking a political position on this issue, many now feel (rightly or wrongly) that the church and its members are anti gay and some would even say homophobic. Not everyone understands the churches reasonings for getting involved in prop 8. When a church reaches out to the general public in an effort to promote their religious beliefs, those that do not share those religious beliefs take great offense and blame the church for imposing the churches beliefs on them. For those reasons, when the church wanders into the political arena caution should be exercised.

In my opinion, in the end, gay marriage will be the law of the land. People will look back on the Mormon churches attitudes towards gays as being homophobic. in a similar way that people look back on the church for its policies concerning blacks holding the priesthood as being racist. Mormons will be explaining for decades that the churches involvement with prop 8 was not homophobic but because of the churches beliefs about morality. It is a label that will be on the church either rightly or wrongly for a long time. Some in the church will think it was worth it. Others will wish it had never occurred.

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California Boy:

I largely agree. What is politically popular may of may not be in accordance with Church doctrine. Laws do come and go as people change opinions. From a personal standpoint I'm more interested in my agreeing with God than I am about God agreeing with me.

I believe the Church does have a moral obligation to publicly state its position on any subject it so desires, within the limits of the laws. I would hate to see, and work actively against any governmental curtailing the rights of anyone or any church to believe and/or act in accordance with those belief. Subject of course to physical safety concerns, and libel/slander laws.

Myself, I've never been homophobic in the slightest, and don't believe the Church is either. Undoubtedly there are some in the Church, as with any large group, who were/are, and will continue to be such. I don't excuse them for any maltreatment or mistreatment of their brothers and sisters whom happen to be homosexual. As a professsional counselor I treat my homosexual clients with the same respect, sound judgement, using all the tools of my trade to treat the problem(s) they want to address, as I do with my heterosexual clients. My job is not to add further burdens, but to help carry the load. I feel as that is my responsibility as a member of the Church also.

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The Prop 8 legal challenge was not based on the non-profit status of the church, but that it did not follow the strict reporting requirements of the law for disclosure. As I remember, the law had a weekly reporting requirement, and the church reported monthly, or some minor issue.

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A Church as a 501c3 organization can engage in limited political activities.

BTW the IRS test is "substantial expenditure" not "insubstantial amount".

Is there a meaningful difference between the two in this case? The lawyers that drew up the document to counsel churches seemed to think a substantial expenditure was interpreted by the IRS as being anywhere from 5-15% of the churches funds.

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The LDS church involvement by giving in kind donations of media resources and asking members to take a stand personally falls well withing the "insubstantial amount" definition of the IRS.

You think that the Prop 8 in-kind contributions took more then 15% of the church's funds for the year????

:rofl:

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You think that the Prop 8 in-kind contributions took more then 15% of the church's funds for the year????

:rofl:

Not unless the mall was used for a commercial set.

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Is there a meaningful difference between the two in this case? The lawyers that drew up the document to counsel churches seemed to think a substantial expenditure was interpreted by the IRS as being anywhere from 5-15% of the churches funds.

Yes there is a difference. What the ADF used is not correct terminology. As for the percent range, I believe that can attributed to a court proceeding wherein the judge ruled that 20% of whatever funds used was substantial. Another test use some sort of ranges not to exceede 100k.

As for prop 8 not sure what monies of the church would have counted towards determining the substantial expenditure.

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Yes there is a difference. What the ADF used is not correct terminology. As for the percent range, I believe that can attributed to a court proceeding wherein the judge ruled that 20% of whatever funds used was substantial. Another test use some sort of ranges not to exceede 100k.

As for prop 8 not sure what monies of the church would have counted towards determining the substantial expenditure.

Since the church donated no cash and only some in kind use of media resources I think getting to 100K would be difficult, 20% impossible.

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Substantial part seems to be a facts and circumstances measurement. In one case we find that 5% was not substantial.

Devoting less than 5% of activities to lobbying is not substantial. Seasongood v. Commissioner, 227 F.2d 907 (1955).

In another 16% to 20% was substantial.

Spending between 16.6% and 20.5% of an organization’s time on lobbying is substantial. Haswell v. United States, 500 F.2d 1133 (Ct. Cl. 1974).

The IRS has used other factors to determine substantiality:

Time spent by employees and volunteers;

Money spent in relation to the organization’s entire budget;

The amount of publicity the organization assigns to the activity;

Continuous or intermittent nature of the activity. G.C.M. 36148 (Jan. 28, 1975).

It seems that substantiality is to be determined it is on a case by case basis but it is arguable that if an organization devotes 5% or less of its activities they are probably safe.

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What really frightens me is that the enforcement and interpretation of this law is effectively up to a group of lawyers and bureaucrats to decide after the fact.

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KevinG:

Such is the nature of all manmade laws, and how we impliment Gods'.

Yes but God and wise men lay out the conditions and penalties prior to the offense. They don't say try not to cross this poorly defined line and we will decide if you committed a crime afterwards. I have the same issues with harassment laws. I have never even been close to the line - but guilty until proven innocent and in the eyes of the beholder are not legal concepts I am comfortable with.

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I think this should be brought into the discussion. What do the offical scriptures of the Church say is and isnt fair game re: politics and governments?

Even better, what is the official doctrine of the Church (the interpretation of D&C 134) on this matter? From http://institute.lds...-in-131-134.asp

D&C 134:4, 9 . The Relation of Religion and Human Law

President Heber J. Grant said:

“One of the fundamental articles of faith promulgated by the Prophet Joseph Smith was: ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience; and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.’ [see Articles of Faith 1:11 .]

But we claim absolutely no right, no prerogative whatever, to interfere with any other people.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1921, p. 203.)

According to Elder John A. Widtsoe, the Prophet Joseph Smith advocated that “a good government must secure for every citizen the free exercise of conscience. Matters of belief or religious practice should not be interfered with, unless they oppose laws formulated for the common good. There should be no mingling of religious influence with civil governments.” ( Joseph Smith, p. 215.)

D&C 134:5–6 . “Sedition and Rebellion Are Unbecoming Every Citizen”

President N. Eldon Tanner taught:

“There are many who question the constitutionality of certain acts passed by their respective governments, even though such laws have been established by the highest courts in the land as being constitutional, and they feel to defy and disobey the law.

Abraham Lincoln once observed: ‘Bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible; still, while they continue in force, they should be religiously observed.’

“This is the attitude of the Church in regard to law observance. . . .

“There is no reason or justification for men to disregard or break the law or try to take it into their own hands.

“It is the duty of citizens of any country to remember that they have individual responsibilities, and that they must operate within the law of the country in which they have chosen to live.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1975, p. 126; or Ensign, Nov. 1975, p. 83 .)

President Joseph Fielding Smith likewise said: “No member of the Church can be accepted as in good standing whose way of life is one of rebellion against the established order of decency and obedience to law. We cannot be in rebellion against the law and be in harmony with the Lord, for he has commanded us to ‘be subject to the powers that be, until he reigns whose right it is to reign. . . .’ ( D&C 58:22 .) And one of these days he is going to come.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, p. 48; or Ensign, June 1971, p. 50 .)

The exception to this principle would be when the Lord directs His people through His prophets to take an opposing stand to government. Otherwise they recognize the established authority of government.

D&C 134:8 . “All Men Should Step Forward . . . in Bringing Offenders against Good Laws to Punishment”

Said Elder James E. Talmage: “Now, the Lord has provided that those in his Church shall live according to the law, and he makes a distinction between the law pertaining to the Church and what we call the secular law, or the law of the land, but he requires obedience to each. My love for my brother in this Church does not mean that I am to . . . stand between him and righteous judgment. This Church is no organization like that of the secret combinations of old, which the Lord hath said he hates, the members of which were pledged, and bound by oath that they would cover up one another’s crimes, that they would justify one another in theft and murder and in all things that were unclean. It is no such organization at all. It would not be of God if it were.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1920, p. 63.)

D&C 134:11 . “Men Are Justified in Defending Themselves”

See Notes and Commentary on Doctrine and Covenants 98:16–48 .

And that is only a sampling.

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Even better, what is the official doctrine of the Church (the interpretation of D&C 134) on this matter? From http://institute.lds...-in-131-134.asp

D&C 134:4, 9 . The Relation of Religion and Human Law

President Heber J. Grant said:

“One of the fundamental articles of faith promulgated by the Prophet Joseph Smith was: ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience; and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.’ [see Articles of Faith 1:11 .]

But we claim absolutely no right, no prerogative whatever, to interfere with any other people.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1921, p. 203.)

According to Elder John A. Widtsoe, the Prophet Joseph Smith advocated that “a good government must secure for every citizen the free exercise of conscience. Matters of belief or religious practice should not be interfered with, unless they oppose laws formulated for the common good. There should be no mingling of religious influence with civil governments.” ( Joseph Smith, p. 215.)

And that is only a sampling.

From what I am getting from your post, are you arguing that the church should not get involved in Prop 8 according to these statements? Or did i misread your intent of your post?

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From what I am getting from your post, are you arguing that the church should not get involved in Prop 8 according to these statements? Or did i misread your intent of your post?

I can''t speak for ERayR, but I myself don't think that is what he is arguing. I think this was a more-or-less generic representation of the basic political stance of the Church.

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