5 Ways Churches Get Preferential Treatment and Benefit from Legal Loopholes

    By Rob Boston | 27 July 2012

    Many conservative religious leaders insist that houses of worship in America today struggle under intense persecution. To hear some of the Catholic bishops tell it, religious freedom may soon be a memory because they don’t always get their way in policy debates.

    It would be highly ironic if the United States, the nation that perfected religious liberty and enshrined it in the Constitution’s First Amendment, had become hostile to the rights of religious groups.

    But that’s not what’s happening. In reality, U.S. law is honeycombed with examples of preferential treatment and special breaks for religion. Some of these practices may grow out of the First Amendment command that the “free exercise” of religion must not be infringed. Others are traditions or were added to the law after lobbying efforts by religious groups.

    Here are five ways American law extends protections and preference to houses of worship.

    1. Tax Policy

    Tax exemption is given to a variety of religious and secular groups, but in the case of houses of worship, they get one huge advantage: They are tax exempt by mere dint of their existence. They don’t have to apply for tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service, nor, absent highly unusual circumstances or blatant law-breaking, can they lose it.

    Contrast this with secular non-profits. If a group of people get together and decide to solicit donations to protect endangered species, they have to apply for tax-exempt status with the IRS, fill out voluminous paperwork and jump through various hoops. If the IRS has problems with the application or determines that endangered species won’t really be protected, tax-exempt status can be denied.

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    1. I just spoke with Dan Barker about this issue this weekend. Secular and humanist groups have been battling against the unlawful use of religion in public schools, government speech, public buildings, etc. When asked if the power of the church could be approached from the IRS end of things, he basically told me good luck getting that to happen. Every day I see ministers preaching politics from the pulpit, churches throwing copious amounts of money government-related issues, flaunting their violations of the law, and yet one can’t get a simple reply from the IRS or DoJ about why it is allowed to happen. It’s not only sickening to watch our government turn a blind eye to anything with “God” attached to it, but it violates our rights every single day.

    2. I belong to a small, progressive church in the midwest. Our books and financial records are in order and open to any member who has questions or would like to examine them. We would GLADLY submit to the same annual disclosure and auditing requirements as any other financial institution. In fact, as a member of our church council I will explore, and if possible, propose that we do just that.


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