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Pulpit Freedom Sunday -- Should the Church Be Tax-Exempt?

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An army of more than 1,000 pastors from around the country will take on the IRS this coming Sunday by participating in what's being called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday." Under the Johnson Amendment, tax-exempt organizations, including churches, are not allowed to endorse any candidate running for elective public office. The real issue behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday is whether or not free speech reigns irrefutably over tax-exempt organizations, or should groups such as churches be permitted to make political recommendations to its members? And beyond that, the even larger question is why are churches still classified as tax-exempt?

Alliance Defending Freedom, the Christian organization behind Pulpit Freedom Sunday, says it's unconstitutional and pastors are being censored, and the church across America is being silenced. They're encouraging pastors to preach politics this Sunday, and to record the sermons and mail them to the IRS. The group is hoping the IRS will follow through on its threats of removing the tax-exempt status of a church caught preaching politics, so it can bring the matter to a judge to decide, because they say a judge is likely to see it as a clear violation of the First Amendment.

In general, the government should not have the right to suppress free speech. Freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and is guaranteed to all Americans. However, in regards to Pulpit Freedom Day, the church can't have its cake and eat it too. If it wants to be classified as a tax-exempt organization, then it needs to play by the rules and abstain from preaching politics.

Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code describes what the government considers to be an eligible nonprofit, religious group. "A tax-exempt religious organization is a legal entity or vehicle created and operated exclusively for religious purposes, no part of the net earnings of which insures to the benefit of any private individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in or interfere in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

With that said, the church in America saves roughly 71 billion dollars annually by being tax-exempt. Imagine how much food that could buy to feed the hungry, or how it could help those less fortunate. This might be acceptable if the church was actually encouraging strategies to reduce human suffering, irresponsible behavior that harms others, ending violence in our neighborhoods and other critical issues. Churches do not serve the common good; they propagate ancient supernatural mythology that brainwashes people into believing the unbelievable and impedes social and scientific progress.

Not only that, but when you have church leaders living the lap of luxury in million dollar homes and flying around in private jets, why exactly is the church tax-exempt? An example of this is Kenneth Copeland, a televangelist from Texas.

Copeland owns a gigantic 18,000 sq. foot lake house on Eagle Mountain Lake in Newark, Texas, complete with an onsite airport. In 2007, Copeland was accused of using his $20 million Cessna Citation X jet for personal vacations and friends, and luckily his second private Citation jet was denied tax-exemption after Copeland refused to submit to disclosure laws for the state of Texas.

Critical thinking questions whether this kind of prosperity puts the focus on money or God? Conveniently for Kenneth Copeland, he practices what's been coined "Prosperity gospel," which teaches that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth. Ironically, the Bible contradicts this idea, and in Proverbs 23:4 says, "Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it."

It's time for the government to stop subsidizing religion and phase out this special privilege of tax-exemptions to churches. Pastors and church leaders need to make a choice: feel free to talk politics all they want from the pulpit, but be willing to pay the consequences.

The IRS needs to get tough with churches and enforce the law, and be willing to fight the matter in court. It's shameful enough that churches are already off the hook for paying their fair share, so considering what they get away with they should just play it smart, keep quiet and stay out of politics.

Technically speaking, when a 501(c)(3) church openly speaks out, or organizes in opposition to, anything that the government declares legal such as same sex marriage or abortion, it is already putting its tax-exempt status in jeopardy. The church knows the IRS will rarely come after them, so they continue to push the limits.

For now churches will remain tax-exempt, and while by law they aren't supposed to be pushing messages on politics and certain other agendas, it seems some will, especially this coming Sunday. The sad part is very few Americans possess much knowledge on Christianity beyond what their pastor tells them on Sunday. It's been estimated that fewer than 10 percent of professed Christians have actually read the entire Bible, and only a fraction of those have seriously studied it. Most people believe because they have been brainwashed to believe.

The bottom line is people need to start thinking for themselves. Do your own research, engage in critical thinking and come to your own conclusions. Don't let your pastor or anyone else who may be misinformed make the decision for you. When you cast your ballot this November, make the choice that you believe is best for America because it's what you believe, and not because it's how your pastor or anyone else told you to vote.