Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Activists Seek Revocation of Tax Exempt Status of Churches That Supported Prop 8

San Francisco Chronicle: Tax-Exempt Benefit Disputed in Prop. 8 Campaign, by Matthai Kuruvila:

In the wake of Proposition 8's passage, opponents are railing that churches that supported the ballot measure violated their tax-exempt status.

It's a common accusation at the now-weekly protests, gaining enough traction that Geoff Kors, a member of the No on 8 executive committee, said lawyers are investigating the issue. "The Mormon church overstepped its boundaries by being a tax-exempt organization," said Sharone Negev, 54, of San Francisco, who has gone to protests in San Francisco and the Mormon temple in Oakland. "They clearly are not supposed to be involved in political activities."

But interviews with experts and activists on the issue say Prop. 8 opponents should look elsewhere for reasons to criticize the measure's supporters. "They almost certainly have not violated their tax exemption," said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the leading advocacy organization on the issue. "While the tax code has a zero tolerance for endorsements of candidates, the tax code gives wide latitude for churches to engage in discussions of policy matters and moral questions, including when posed as initiatives."

(Hat Tip: How Appealing.)  See also Cain: CA Churches Will Not Lose Tax Exemptions for Performing Same-Sex Marriages If Prop 8 Fails (10/23/08).

Update: See also Nonprofit Law Prof Blog:  LDS Church, Proposition 8, and the Lobbying Limitation, by John Colombo (Illinois)

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Because a Church makes it's views known to it's members does not mean it has broken the law, there is a huge difference. Anyway, the No side of the is refusing to address the real issue. Marriage is a fundamental right that everyone has, true enough, but altering it definition under federal law subjects it to nondiscrimination laws which will enforce the redefined version on any organization, business, or practice that excludes gay marriage. This infringes on everyones 1st amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty. No one has positive proof that homosexuality is a born genetic trait, so you cannot use it as an excuse when you say it is a sexual behavior, same sex marriage being a social behavior supported by sexual views. When you enforce behavior under nondiscrimination laws, you are telling everyone that you have to condone this or you can be penalized. It's what they did in Massachusetts with schools and adoption agencies.

Posted by: WarAPeace | Dec 10, 2008 9:15:23 AM

I think there is quite a bit of confusion on this blog as to who wrote which comment. I didn't write the comment Kyle is referring to, but it's easy to get confused because "posted by" appears above the comment. Maybe something the site designer wants to consider?

In any case, thanks to those who responded and restored a little of my faith in rational discourse.

Posted by: Olivier | Dec 3, 2008 7:38:29 PM


Correct. However, the individual donors you speak of had not donated the vast majority of the funds until the LDS Church (yes, the CHURCH ITSELF) sent out what is commonly referred to as "the code blue" email from the PRESIDENT OF THE CHURCH. The LDS Church admits they sent it as an official communication and also admits they targeted it to their wealthiest members. The email was a religious call to action, and called for donations from loyal and faithful church members. Anyone who knows anything about the Mormon church knows that the President is also the PROPHET. And when the Prophet speaks, it is understood that faithful LDS church members will follow.

Posted by: Kyle | Dec 3, 2008 10:28:06 AM

Political involvement by religious institutions has been a burning issue the last few years, with pastors even going so far this past presidential election as to directly violate the laws governing what ministers can and cannot say in relation to elections. Most likely, the laws will have to either be rewritten or some comprimise will have to be reached.

Posted by: JT | Dec 3, 2008 7:37:47 AM

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' only official involvements in prop 8 were:

1) Distributing this letter:

2) Individual members discussing their personal thoughts about the moral issue at Church

3) Reimbursing a couple grand in travel expenses from Church leaders visiting California

All of the money came from individuals (both inside and outside of the LDS Church). There was more money against prop 8 than there was for it - perhaps we should take away the tax exempt status of the various religions of those who donated against it? To me it seems like the no on 8 people are doing anything and everything they can to get their name in the news, and it appears that they don't even care about whether it's bad press or good press. One of their big arguments in the campaign was how the gay marriage issue won't hurt or affect religious people at all, and then they immediately go out and start lobbying to take away the tax exempt status of churches whose members exercised their democratic rights. The no on 8 side would be *much* better of if they had some cohesive leaders who knew what they were doing. They might even be able to switch the vote around in California in just a few short years, but everytime there's an angry protest, vandalism of churches, terrorist activities (e.g., white powder), legal threats against churches like this, etc. it does nothing but hurt their side.

Posted by: Bliz | Dec 3, 2008 6:14:28 AM

Oliver, almost everyone would not agree that a Church can voice its opinion freely. The tax code prohibits churches from saying certain things. For example, under the current state of the law, a pastor is not allowed to tell congregants whom they should vote for from the pulpit without jeopardizing the church's tax-exempt status. Recently, a number of pastors did exactly that in order to create a test case to challenge the constitutionality of this provision.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 3, 2008 6:03:59 AM

"I doubt that there was much financing from muslim groups."

Muslim groups (for Prop 8) and Jewish groups (both for and against Prop 8) donated more than the Mormon Church, which donated nothing other that $2,000 in travel that is being contested (and will surely lose as noted above). The Catholic Bishops gave over a Million.

The point being made is that the gay activists are picking on another religious minority and playing into societal prejudices against Mormons. They might as well go after the Blacks, the Mexicans and the Muslims, but they know it wouldn't look good, so they go around burning Book of Mormons, sending white powder to Mormon temples and witch hunting Mormon employees and their businesses to get them fired and run out of business (all in the name of tolerance). Why you can't see the irony shows your prejudices and biases.

Posted by: Mateo | Dec 2, 2008 9:40:19 PM

Wow, serr8d, you're NOT a lawyer? What a surprise...

Judging by your mystifying ability to link the revocation of tax-exempt status from a church engaged in political fund-raising to the future imposition of Sharia law, you lack the mental faculties to make it through law school, let alone pass the bar.

Posted by: not gay but principled | Dec 2, 2008 6:56:49 PM


You need to get your facts straight. The Mormon Church donated a grand total of $0 to the prop 8 campaign. (They did spend about $2,000 on travel costs for a meeting, but no direct donations to the campaign). Several Mormon church members, however, did donate very large sums, all of which was subjected to the same taxes as your $250 donation.

Maybe you should do a little more research before labling others as "lazy" and "facile"

Posted by: Justin | Dec 2, 2008 6:17:10 PM

Wow, this has to be the least objective comments section I've ever seen. While almost everyone would agree that a Church or anyone else can voice its opinion freely, the point was about FINANCIAL contributions, which is a different question entirely. I doubt that there was much financing from muslim groups.

Yes, it's likely true that such financial contributions won't violate their tax-exempt status...but no reason to be homophobic and un-nuanced about it. Isn't this a tax blog?

Posted by: Olivier | Dec 2, 2008 5:49:55 PM

The lazy, facile thinking exhibited in these comments is stunning!

The issue is the use of TAX-EXEMPT funds for political purposes. Its not about silencing churches, or going after some churches, but not others that were for Prop. 8.

The Mormon church funnelled TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS all of which was TAX EXEMPT to get Prop 8 passed. I sent $250 to 'No on Prop 8', and I cannot take a tax deduction. Surely, whatever your position on gay marriage, this 'discrepancy' in the tax code should be investigated and corrected.

Posted by: Tax Payer | Dec 2, 2008 3:35:19 PM

I think it's a totally fair move by the Prop 8 opponents. Churches have hijacked politics in this country for far too long. Any organization that actively seeks to discriminate, much less deprive citizens of rights, should not be tax-exempt. I'm for removing tax-exempt status from all of these $$$ machines that prey on their ignorant followers to oppress those who are different. It's stricly a financial matter... they have a right to give, but the government should not financially support any group that actively campaigns against the civil rights of others.

Enough of this big-government "faith-based" BS.

Posted by: Dale | Dec 2, 2008 3:35:08 PM

I think what some of us "California gays" are angry about (in addition to having constitutional issues of equal protection put to a majority vote) is that churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations who infused tens of millions of dollars to pass Prop. 8 would seem to be "carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation," in violation of sec. 501(c)(3). There is a line somewhere. Under the case law to date, the line might not have been crossed yet, but there's a line somewhere, and it may be time to re-examine these exemptions (on both sides). BTW, other lobbying organizations complained about in these comments are often 501(c)(4)'s, such as the lobbying arm of the ACLU, which have wider latitude to influence legislation.

Posted by: Pato | Dec 2, 2008 3:04:33 PM

If the law is supposedly clear on the issue of issues versus candidates, what is the appropriate tax treatment of Roman Catholic Churches that have refused communion to Doug Kmiec for his support of Obama, and called for confession of any who voted for Obama?

Posted by: SJE | Dec 2, 2008 3:01:58 PM

I wonder - are they also going against Muslim mosques? Islam takes a much harder stand on that subject than either Christian or Jewish churches.

Posted by: ZZMike | Dec 1, 2008 11:08:53 AM

So are they going after AME, Catholic churches as well as mosques?

If not, then they are whiny little coward beyotches.

Posted by: Dr. Kenneth Noisewater | Dec 1, 2008 7:59:05 AM

Fine. Just get in line AFTER the tax exemption is removed for churches and foundations that support gay marriage, illegal immigration, illegal voter registration, Obama; or oppose right-to-work laws, the right to keep and bear arms, etc.

Posted by: Observer | Dec 1, 2008 7:14:48 AM

Odd, but I don't see the same outcry from churches (such as they are) who opposed Prop. 8, like the Episcopal Church. Sauce for the goose, but none for the gander?

Posted by: Jeffersonian | Dec 1, 2008 6:34:04 AM

Numerous churches came out in FAVOR of Prop 8. I assume these activists will seek to revoke their tax exempt status as well.

Posted by: Dave | Dec 1, 2008 4:58:23 AM

One wonders if they are also going after churches that supported killing prop 8.

Posted by: Ben | Dec 1, 2008 1:57:38 AM

Be most assured, even though I was a passive supporter of Prop 8, if we have to have another go-round because the anti-8 fascists get their way and steal this election, I'll be an active supporter for the next iteration. By the by, where are the protesters for my right as a parent being stripped away by Prop 4?

Posted by: Harvard@Cal | Nov 30, 2008 10:36:58 PM

Fail to see how this is a surprise it is after what they planned to do even if they won... the timetable and plans are already set... win or lose the next set actions would have happened anyway.

Posted by: robotech master | Nov 30, 2008 9:28:37 PM

Nice to see that people who feel that a part of their lives have been legislated and are angry over it still think it's OK to legislate the lives and beliefs of people who don't agree with them. Heaven forbid anybody should have an opinion different than them. Gosh, that might mean that they won't get what they want. Oh, wait, they didn't, which is precisely why we have to deal with their tantrums and whining. The way I understand it: they'll only accept anything voted into law by the people if it goes their way. Sounds like my selfish, immature sisters.

Does this mean that eventually anybody who thinks differently will have to pay a tax to express their opinion? Guess that'll just be priming the pump for when Sharia Law is enacted and we'll have to pay not to believe in Islam. Slippery slope much? (No, I don't feel I'm being paranoid; I'm no lawyer, but I've seen enough laws meant to do one thing be used for entirely different purposes. Kind of like how some medications are often prescribed by doctors for purposes other than what they are approved for.)

Posted by: hM | Nov 30, 2008 9:03:00 PM

Trinity United Church of Christ.

Posted by: serr8d | Nov 30, 2008 8:44:48 PM

Chickenshit. Pure. Unadulterated. Chickenshit. Maybe I'd go along if we'd remove the tax exemptions on the ACLU, NOW and the Brady Campaign. Plus all the AGWer's. They're as much religion as some of the churches' which are under attack.

Posted by: RKV | Nov 30, 2008 8:34:41 PM

Oh come on! I realize they're upset Prop 8 passed, but people aren't allowed to preach against things they don't believe in now? I'm an atheist liberal, but the California gays are just getting more and more ridiculous every day.

Posted by: Rationalist | Nov 30, 2008 7:57:40 PM