Thursday, December 27, 2012
Brett M. Bloom (J.D. 2012, Liberty), Comment, The Rise of the Virtual Church: Is It Really a Church Under I.R.C. Section 170(b)(1)(A)(i)?, 6 Liberty U. L. Rev. 495 (2012):
The Service and courts have struggled with the meaning of "church" since Congress first introduced the term into the Internal Revenue Code. Receiving little guidance from Congress, the Service and courts have borne the burden of administering and enforcing the tax laws with respect to churches. Diverging in respective analysis, the Service adopted fourteen criteria, while the courts proposed an associational aspect test. Nevertheless, while technology has changed how churches interact with the world, the respective tests of the Service and courts have remained fixed. The Foundation of Human Understanding v. United States decision sparked renewed interest in the debate over the definition of church for tax purposes by revealing inconsistencies with both the Service's and courts' respective tests. Can virtual churches provide associational aspects to their adherents? Moreover, why do virtual churches receive inconsistent treatment in relation to virtual universities? Such questions deserve answers.
Virtual churches are a growing reality in today's society. As individuals move away from traditional brick and mortar buildings, towards virtual churches, the next case challenging the current tests is on the horizon. A definition to address these emerging issues and provide uniformity is inevitable. Nevertheless, providing a definition for church is no small task because of competing concerns. The first concern is Congress's intent for the definition of “church” to be stricter than “religious organization,” and the second concern is the ever-present religion clauses of the First Amendment. The Treasury regulations proposed by this Note address the aforementioned questions while being mindful of the competing concerns. Admittedly, the proposed regulations will neither end litigation that inquires into whether an organization is a church nor address the concerns of every critic. The proposed regulations simply provide a framework for the Service and courts to fairly administer the tax code with respect to churches. While the future of this area of law is unclear, one thing is certain, virtual churches are here to stay.