A couple of nights ago, Stephen Colbert took on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” a protest being mounted by hundreds of pastors against the IRS’ “political activity” regulations.
Here’s the deal: the IRS allows people to deduct contributions to charitable and religious organizations, effectively subsidizing those contributions. If I give 100.00 to my synagogue or church, that gift doesn’t really cost me 100.00. Depending upon my tax bracket, the effective cost to me can be significantly less. In return for that subsidy, the charitable/religious recipients promise–among other things–to refrain from partisan politicking. They can still take positions on the issues of the day; what they are not supposed to do is endorse specific candidates.
The pastor who came on the Colbert Report didn’t see this as a mutually beneficial agreement–he saw it as some form of spiritual slavery, and kept talking about “freeing” the church. On Sunday, he and the other aggrieved clergy will defy the law (as they evidently have on a similar “Freedom Sunday” for the past five years) by issuing a partisan endorsement from the pulpit. According to him, the IRS regulation means the church is being “controlled” by government, and he thundered against any effort to “tax the church,” by which he evidently meant the elimination of this highly preferential tax treatment.
I’m all for giving the churches freedom. Complete freedom. Clergy should be able to say whatever they like, and the IRS should eliminate the current tax policy that allows parishioners to deduct contributions. The church would then be free of the “special rights” and tax benefits that evidently keep it enslaved.