IRS OKs Church Involvement in Politics

HOUSTON -- The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that churches and religious non-profit groups can take part in some political action and maintain tax-exempt status.

Following a request by the Texas Freedom Network the IRS looked into the ultra-conservative, right-wing Niemoller Foundation, a non-profit group that funded pastors' conferences in 2006 prior to the campaign that re-elected Texas Governor Rick Berry.

The Fed tax agency determined that the foundation, nor the church representatives attending, did not violate terms of their non-profit status, reports ChurchExecutive.

The Niemoller conferences were linked to the Texas Restoration Project, in which pastors urged their congregations to vote on moral grounds, including attacks on same-sex marriage and other hot-button conservative issues.

The Liberty Legal Institute, which represented the pastors' conference, bashed "liberals" and the left, claiming the move had been an attempt to "intimidate pastors."  

"There is now a clear IRS statement outlining these pastors' events and approving them as valid under the law," Liberty Legal said in a statement, according to ChurchSolutions.

Niemoller Foundation director Laurence White, a Lutheran pastor, claimed, "We educate churches on moral issues facing our society and encourage them to participate in the democratic process."

White added it was "Biblical responsibility" of pastors to address moral issues in politics.

Texas Freedom Network representative Dan Quinn suggested to CBN News that the IRS ruling is likely to "pretty much embolden wealthy special interests who see funneling money into non-profits like this as a back doorway to drag houses of worships into partisan political campaigns."

"And we think it's sleazy to use faith as a political weapon," Quinn added.

Under the 501(c) (3) code, tax exempt organizations are not allowed to become involved with overt politics, including the endorsing of candidates or forcing or pressuring members to vote for a specific agenda.  The new IRS decision may well have created a gray area, allowing the right-wing conservative religious groups to follow-thru on a political agenda against porn.

However, the ruling also should mean faith-based groups with liberal perspectives may also maintain their non-profit tax status, just as conservative religious organizations will, even if becoming involved in politics.