IRS has a “Political Activities Referral Committee” which spies on preaching

While I was at the recent Napa Institute gathering, I got to know Kristina Arriaga, Executive Director of The Becket Fund, which defends religious freedom.  They guided the Hobby Lobby decision to a good conclusion and for that we owe them a lot.

I had this note from them today.  It included this:

Dear Friends,

I grew up in a household where we were expected to pepper all tales with a bit of Cuban exaggeration. This was, after all, essential for good storytelling.

So, in a way, I wish I were making this up.

Within the IRS, there is, no lie, a “Political Activities Referral Committee” unit that investigates whether preachers have said something from the pulpit in violation of the IRS rules regarding preaching. It even has an acronym: “PARC.”
How do I know this?

Because, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation—a lawsuit where we, the Becket Fund, intervened–the IRS sent FFRF [the Madison, WI based stinky Freedom From Religion Foundation] documents to reassure the activist atheist group that they were really working hard on being very diligent in their monitoring of preachers. The public only knows about this because of the Becket Fund’s intervention, forcing these documents to become part of the public record.

Of course, the IRS rules on this matter are not very clear, so who knows exactly what the PARC unit really monitors or how.

The official IRS letter, which I link here, states: “With regard to these referrals that concern violations by churches, the PARC has determined that as of June 23, 2014, 99 churches merit a high priority examination. Of these 99 churches, the number of churches alleged to have violated the prohibition during 2010 is 15, during 2011 is 18, during 2012 is 65, and during 2013 is one.”

99 churches”? “Prohibition”? Really?

The reference to this “prohibition” is likely referring to the Johnson Amendment, a change made to the IRS code in 1954 to prevent non-profits from talking about politicians, and accidentally ensnared preachers who taught about moral issues with political implications.

Ironically, had this amendment been in place, it is very likely the IRS would have pressured Reverend Martin Luther King into censoring sermons he made from the pulpit. The IRS could have also intimidated Reverend Billy Graham to prevent him from preaching with Dr. King in 1953. Pastors that denounced the Vietnam era wars—they too could have been deemed to fall within the boundaries of the IRS “prohibition.”

Clearly, it is not the role of the government to censor what a preacher says from the pulpit to his/her congregation. Yet our government wants to give “a high priority examination” to 99 of them.

PARC reminds me of another committee I know well. In Cuba, the government established in each neighborhood block the “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution” in order to make sure all citizens complied with the state’s idea of moral and social order.

It seems like a bit of Cuban exaggeration to compare our situation—doesn’t it?

But, from where I sit, I am watching a government bureaucracy that is attempting to shove out—under the penalty of fines and threats– any person or group of persons who are driven by convictions that are different from the government’s convictions.

If the government decides that once you open a family business you give up your constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty, who are the owners of Hobby Lobby to disagree?

If the government determines that contraception is vital and certain employers must pay for it, who are the Little Sisters of the Poor to say they can’t and won’t pay or make anyone else pay for it?

If the government decides what makes acceptable preaching, who are preachers to disagree?

Well, I’ll tell you who they are. They are Americans with constitutionally guaranteed protections. And we at the Becket Fund exist to defend them.

 

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Our Catholic Identity, Religious Liberty, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices, The Last Acceptable Prejudice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to IRS has a “Political Activities Referral Committee” which spies on preaching

  1. benedetta says:

    This PARC ought to just put “Un-American Activities” to its moniker and call it a day. Nice black list that.

  2. DisturbedMary says:

    We in the New York Archdiocese don’t have to worry. We are the Church Bravissimo of the Government/Church complex. We heartily support all our politicians, especially the Catholic Democrat ones. We don’t have to say a word in our sermons. We prefer to give shout outs and big smiles and light politicians’ cigars and meet privately with them wearing our big boy mitres. The political class and the IRS know all is well with the Catholic Church and Government policies. We are the big teddy bear Catholic Church cheering on Catholic Charities as it services the latest Government policy — the immigration flash mob — which they cleverly devised to break our hearts and our borders. No problemo here with Uncle Sam. Or to be fair, should I say Aunt Samantha?

  3. Joe Magarac says:

    It is worth remembering that there are quite a few “prosperity gospel” preachers who receive a lot of money from people, pay no tax on any of it, and then spend it on lavish homes, cars, planes, and other material goods. Creflo Dollar is the classic example; there are others.

    In my view, the IRS needs to examine such preachers and to question whether their income should be treated as tax-deductible. Is there a slippery slope, which could lead the IRS to examine Catholic priests and to hassle them? Sure there is. But I would rather have groups like the Becket Fund monitor the IRS’s examination of preachers, and to speak out when the IRS goes too far, as opposed to having a blanket rule that the IRS is never permitted to question any donation to a religious charity.

  4. Bea says:

    No wonder the sermons we hear are so watered down.
    Big Brother is watching/listening in.

  5. Toan says:

    I wonder what 99 churches they singled out were. It would be interesting to see how many of them were singled out for supporting Democrats.

  6. benedetta says:

    I wonder whether the sermonettes of the NunsontheBus get the pass?

  7. Gil Garza says:

    No organization committed to the critique of government ever got far in such an endeavor by receiving special government benefits.

  8. robtbrown says:

    Joe Magarac,

    The money paid to the organization and that paid to its head are two different matters. If the former is a non profit, it is not subject to Fed income tax–though it might be subject to non fed property taxes. The latter always is–and there are limits how much a non profit can pay its head.

  9. HeatherPA says:

    Pray for priests.
    For the great, the good, the yellow liners, the lukewarm, the weak, the Protestants with Roman Collars, the terrified, and the despairing ones.
    Just pray for all priests.

  10. Priam1184 says:

    Strange how I always thought that Saint Thomas Becket died defending the primacy of the Catholic Church, not the right to worship rocks and trees and the sun and the moon and to offer sacrifice to your pet goat. I must have been mistaken on that.

    And yes when you look to human institutions (amendments to constitutions, governments, military might, cultural norms) to ‘guarantee’ your right to give true and proper worship to the Divine then this is what happens. Frankly we are getting what we deserve.

  11. Bob B. says:

    Makes one wonder if a blog run by a priest might be considered a pulpit by the government, especially in this administration?

  12. Sonshine135 says:

    Shed the 501c3 designation.
    Pay taxes on the income.
    Speak about whatever you please including candidates for Government positions.
    Small price to pay to keep your freedom of speech.

  13. Mojoron says:

    This PARC nonsense means that church leaders such as Reverend Wright and the Righteous Reverend’s Jesse and Al will be forced to preach on the Gospel instead of politics. That is of course you can find their churches.

  14. ppb says:

    A few years ago, a few dark-suited men came into our TLM for a few minutes, stood off in the corners and seemed to be looking around, then left. Someone in the congregation said they were using the same hand signals used by the FBI, etc. I don’t know if this is true or not or what exactly happened, but the first thing that occurred to us was that the sermon was being “checked out” by the feds. It was definitely creepy.

  15. incredulous says:

    Sonshine135,

    From Wikipedia: “Under Islamic law, jizya or jizyah is a per capita tax levied on a section of an Islamic state’s non-Muslim subjects, who meet certain criteria. The tax is and was to be levied on able-bodied adult males of military age (but with specific exemptions). From the point of view of the Muslim rulers, jizya was a material proof of the non-Muslims’ acceptance of subjection to the state and its laws. In return, non-Muslim subjects are permitted to practice their faith, to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy, to be entitled to the Muslim state’s protection from outside aggression, and to be exempted from military service and from the zakat tax levied upon Muslim citizens.”

    A tax and material proof that once accepts subjection to the state seems like a small price to pay to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy and permission to practice one’s faith too. Who could disagree? And of course, as others have pointed out, the government would never tax Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ, for example, for preaching politics from the pulpit, so the taxing the Catholic church would be a tax for them only and not for approved churches just like jizya that has been implemented (I believe) in Mosul against Christians.

  16. The Sicilian Woman says:

    All towards the Church losing tax-exempt status. It’s coming. No doubt many, many parishes will have to close. I am more concerned about the “progressive” parishes “absorbing” the orthodox ones, as what appears will likely happen to Church of the Holy Innocents in NYC.

  17. Amateur Scholastic says:

    Priam has got it. The American system is founded, quite explicitly, on the basis that there is no authority higher than men’s. A constitution is a product of men. It can be changed, or ignored, if certain people have sufficient power to do so. So why is anyone surprised that this is happening?

  18. JesusFreak84 says:

    What Priam1184 and Amateur Schoalstic said.

  19. DisturbedMary says:

    The Sicilian Woman,

    Card. Dolan will not close Holy Innocents — it will stay open because of its “specialization” in serving the TLM community. That will give him cover for keeping open the churches that serve the LGBT communities, his favorites, which of course were never in danger of being shuttered.

  20. The Sicilian Woman says:

    DisturbedMary, thanks for the information. So NYC is allowed one faithful, traditional parish at the price of ones that add to the decay. Shaking my head.

  21. Ed the Roman says:

    Priam1184 and Amateur Scholastic, let us know how you intend to obtain a Catholic Emperor. Please limit Death/Hostile (DH) casualties to less than 100,000.

  22. Scott W. says:

    That modern democratic thought is irredeemable factory of damnation, doesn’t mean anyone is insisting on an insurrection to install a Catholic emperor. The Almighty Himself will throw down the hydra-headed demon. It’s just our jobs to avoid worshiping any of the heads.

  23. benedetta says:

    I guess on the heels of the Lois Lerner lost the emails victory, the administration is ready to press on with its scapegoating of Christians.

  24. benedetta says:

    Maybe this government backed witch hunt is being brought to you by the satanist PAC?

  25. Legisperitus says:

    Ed the Roman: The United States Constitution is capable of amendment, which is arguably its one saving grace. A mass conversion of Americans to Catholic truth is something Divine grace is entirely capable of procuring, and a gradual transformation of the nation’s government by peaceful means would surely follow. Please pick a better straw man next time.

  26. midwestmom says:

    I nominate Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Des Moines, Iowa to be stalked by
    PARC, particularly its Peace & Justice Committee. They signed on to a movement to prevent the removal – by ballot – of state supreme court judges who ruled in favor of SSM, all done with the knowledge of their pastor and bishop. By all means, strip them of their tax exempt status.

  27. Pingback: Silence in Nineveh - BigPulpit.com

  28. cajuncath says:

    I’m not seeing much of an issue here. As I see it, religious bodies get to enjoy federal tax exemption, which is not an automatic constitutional right in our US system. Therefore, there are certain rules and restrictions the religious bodies must abide by in order to enjoy this form of federal government benefit. The IRS seems to be simply trying to enforce the restrictions which the religious bodies in effect agreed to when they accepted the exemption.

    If we do not want any government involvement in monitoring our sermons, then let’s forfeit the government benefit of exemption. Problem solved. Although why should monitoring our homiliies be a problem? If I were a priest, I would think I would welcome as many people as possible to listen to me, including those in the government.

    I’m also increasingly wary of Americanist groups who in effect water down Catholic truths with Americanist ideas. Does the Becket Fund really stand by what Archbishop Becket stood for? If so, then as I see it, they should be devoting themselves to ensuring that all Catholic clergy are exempt from all American laws and can only be tried by the Vatican for any alleged wrongdoing.

    And I’m guessing Archbishop Becket did not believe in religious liberty rights for those outside the one true faith.

  29. Kerry says:

    Yoo hoo! Amateur Scholastic! “…to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them …they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions…”
    Or, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”
    –Adams wrote this in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
    There is little enough space here to continue. Need one continue?

  30. ray from mn says:

    Well, one thing for sure, you can better believe that they won’t be monitoring any Black churches. They will get a pass for having their members all vote only for Dimocrats.

  31. Magash says:

    cajuncath,
    The problem is that, based on past performance, the only churches that will be penalized will be those who espouse conservative, that is orthodox beliefs. Those who support the culture of death beliefs of the Democratic party will get a pass.
    This is yet another reason why the tax code needs to be simplified and the IRS abolished.

  32. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    What does the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) have in common with any church, synagogue, or mosque? It is registered as a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization and bound by the same, exact rules as any religious institution. The FFRF cannot engage in “politics” (defined by the IRS as endorsing candidates for office) either. In fact, lots of left-wing groups and periodicals (such as Mother Jones and the National Catholic Reporter) have 501 (c) (3) status (since they need tax-deductible donations to survive). If a nonprofit tells you your donations are “tax-deductible,” it is either a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit or a scam.

    There was an excellent article on the rules for all 501 (c) (3) nonprofits published on the Catholic World Report web site and lists many other secular ones. (I wrote it of course!) See http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/1891/the_church_nonprofits_and_taxes.aspx

    I would suggest to visit these left-wing sites to look for any objectionable “political” content and file complaints with the IRS.

    Those who live by the IRS shall be done in by the IRS.

  33. SKAY says:

    cajuncath said-
    “I’m not seeing much of an issue here.”

    The issue is that the IRS under this administration has proven itself to be a dishonest broker.
    They have made a secret agreement with an anti religious group. What is that agreement and what
    will they decide are the rules? It is not clear right now. Will it be just the idea of not telling the congregation -Vote for so and so from the pulpit -or will they try to actually censor how and what religious beliefs can actually be taught –such as what the bible actually says about some of this administrations sacred cows.
    Will they judge Louis Farrakhan’s Black Muslim church and Rev. Wright’s church or any mosque the same as the Catholic Church down the street that teaches the true Catholic faith the same way? Recent IRS history points to no. The Lois Learner investigation has been very revealing. I am interested in knowing the names of the particular 99 churches they are targeting so far.
    I am sorry some Catholic groups have accepted any money from this particular government that wants to destroy the Church for political reasons.

  34. cajuncath says:

    SKAY,

    If the IRS is not engaged in proper monitoring of religious bodies, then that is the issue to be dealt with. And it is not dealt with by any possible suggestion that religious bodies should somehow be able to have their cake and eat it too.

  35. jhayes says:

    I’m with cajuncath in not seeing much of an issue here. The document linked by Becket simply describes what the IRS does when it receives a complaint that a church has violated the regulations that apply to all “Exempt Organizations”. It doesn’t change those regulations and it doesn’t suggest that the IRS is going to start doing anything other than what it always has – nothing, unless it receives a complaint grom some member of the public.

    IRS Regulations do not prevent churches from taking stands on issues (e.g. The HHS contraception mandate, abortion, same-sex-marriage, religious freedom in general, immigration, poverty, healthcare, etc). What they do limit is what is called “Political Campaign Intervention” In other words, you can’t promote or oppose a particular candidate in an election even though you can point out issues for people to consider in making their own decision.

    So, no homilies or placards or bulletin notices to “Vote for John Smith in November” and no invitations to John Smith to speak at your church without inviting the other candidates as well. But you are free to preach against everything that John Smith supports.

    Here’s a 2005 report from the IRS reporting on how they handled complaints during the 2004 election. It isn’t much different from what they have just released.

    http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/final_paci_report.pdf

  36. jhayes says:

    Should have been “But you are free to preach in favor of everything John Smith supports and preach against everything his opponent supports.”

  37. Johnno says:

    Ed the Roman

    Consecrating Russia for it’s total conversion would be a start to a return of the Catholic Monarchy, or at the least a recognition of Christ and His Law as soverign subject to the authority and guidance of the Church in ALL matters. Besides, if you actually believe the U.S. actually is a government of, by, and for the people and not a de-facto oligarcy of elites under the monarchy of Satan, then you must be on another planet.

  38. SKAY says:

    http://www.becketfund.org/militant-atheists-sound-retreat-give-forcing-irs-censor-sermons/
    The atheist group gave up here and chose a different tactic.

    So now they have a secret agreement with the IRS that they are very happy with.
    As I understood the Becket Fund representative who was explaining their position last night, they are interested in what the agreement actually is and how it will be used. Obviously they understand who they are dealing with.

    Will the atheist group send people around to selected churches they choose in order to file a complaint to the IRS ? I can see them achieving exactly what they want to with an agreeable IRS-and they know this one is.

  39. JARay says:

    I am astounded!
    I cannot see this kind of thing happening here in Australia…at least, not yet!