When the Faithful Succumb to Temptation

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10 Responses

  1. JewishAtheist says:

    Talk about disingenuous.

    The wall between church and state was breached when the state allowed the church to be tax-exempt. Enforcing that the church hold up their end of even that sweet deal is hardly a further breach.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    What if someone preached that politicians are bad in general?

  3. Ahron says:

    Regarding the tax issue: Seriously, what else would you expect from a money-collection bureaucracy whose very purpose is intrusion, inspection and cash extraction? The IRS exists as the government’s “attack dog” against the bank accounts of the population. Its job is to extract money and give it to the government. If the IRS now intends to extract more money from some religious institutions that is a minor shift of degree, not kind. (And it is worth noting that the current US tax bureaucracy is far more intrusive than the British tax system that the American Founders rebelled against).

    On the other issue of leftist Jewish clergy trying to foster outside pressure against Israel, I recall that for several years prior to the restart of Arab violence in October 2000 some Reform and Conservative rabbis frequently railed publicly against the “oppressive restrictions” placed on them by Israel. They toned it down after the ignition of international anti-Israel rage but they had frankly been beating the “Israel-is-oppressive” drum for so many years that I suspect they did some real emotional damage to pro-Israel support among some of their own congregants. (An Israeli diplomat told me at the time that his ministry was aware of this problem.)

    In retrospect it seems clear that the clergy were really infuriated by the Israeli government’s and public’s energetic disinterest in their movements.

    One wonders what Reform and Conservative spokespersons would do if Orthodox groups tried to marshall the US State Department to intervene against Israel in dealing with, say, the perennial autopsy abuses by Israeli government pathologists. “Why, you can’t do that!…You’re endangering the American-Israeli relationship…You’re trying to interfere in Israel’s internal affairs…You’re playing with fire!” Oh, the humanity…

  4. Tal Benschar says:

    “The wall between church and state was breached when the state allowed the church to be tax-exempt”

    Not true. Any non-profit organization enjoys the same status. You can start the local Chapter of a Stamp-Collectors Club or even, for that matter, the Atheists of America, and be entitled to the same tax exempt status.

  5. Seth Gordon says:

    You can start the local Chapter of a Stamp-Collectors Club or even, for that matter, the Atheists of America, and be entitled to the same tax exempt status.

    Yes, but if the Stamp-Collectors Club uses its resources to endorse a political candidate, then it can lose that tax-exempt status.

    The IRS has a fact sheet on the topic giving examples of what is and is not allowed.

  6. Michael says:

    Seth, Tal was answering “JewishAthiest” who said that giving a church a tax break was breaching church-state separation. He’s right, it’s not. You’re right that none of these organizations can get into political endorsements, but Tal undoubtedly agrees with you on that.

  7. Seth Gordon says:

    Yeah, my comment #5 should not have been phrased as a direct response to Tal. Here is a more direct response:

    IRS Publication 557 [PDF], page 16, says “An organization may qualify for exemption for federal income tax if it is organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the following purposes”, and then gives a list. One of the items on that list is “Religious”. If “Religious” were not on the list, then synagogues would not qualify for non-profit status.

  8. JewishAtheist says:


    Not true. Any non-profit organization enjoys the same status. You can start the local Chapter of a Stamp-Collectors Club or even, for that matter, the Atheists of America, and be entitled to the same tax exempt status.

    You’re right — I wasn’t clear. If it allows churches to remain tax exempt while engaging in behaviors not permitted other non-profit organizations, it would be a breach.

  9. mycroft says:

    If one organizes as a tax exempt body one can’t engage in politics. One can become a political lobby-but contributions are not tax-deductible-eg AIPAC.

    More disturbingly, the IRS has announced that

    It will no longer wait for complaints to come in, but will instead take action ‘to prevent violations.’ It will be reviewing the content of sermons, it says, as well as the financial books of religious organizations. The free exercise of religion could now come with a hefty bill.

    What is disturbing about an enforcement organization not waiting for a complaint to enforce the law eg do traffic policemen wait for a complaint to enforce speeding laws. One should not justify evasion of laws.

  10. Tal Benschar says:

    Now that we all seem to be in agreement that (1) tax exemption per se is not an establishment of religion and (2) all tax exempt organizations, religious or not, must avoid “political activity” to maintain that status, the question becomes whether one can clearly delineate between political endorsements, which are forbidden, and more general discussion of issues of policy (which may include a moral and ehtical dimension), which are still permitted.

    Unfortunately, if one reviews the IRS fact sheet which Seth Gordon linked to, you will see that some parts of it are vague and subject to IRS discretion. In particular, look at thess paragraphs:

    Under federal tax law, section 501(c)(3) organizations may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candidates in an election for public office. However, section 501(c)(3) organizations must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention. Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate. A statement can identify a candidate not only by stating the candidate’s name but also by other means such as showing a picture of the candidate, referring to political party affiliations, or other distinctive features of a candidate’s platform or biography. All the facts and circumstances need to be considered to determine if the advocacy is political campaign intervention.

    Key factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include the following:
    • Whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office;
    • Whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates’ positions and/or actions;
    • Whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election;
    • Whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election;
    • Whether the issue addressed in the communication has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office;
    • Whether the communication is part of an ongoing series of communications by the organization on the same issue that are made independent of the timing of any election; and
    • Whether the timing of the communication and identification of the candidate are related to a non-electoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office.

    A communication is particularly at risk of political campaign intervention when it makes reference to candidates or voting in a specific upcoming election. Nevertheless, the communication must still be considered in context before arriving at any conclusions.

    This kind of vague, open-ended, multi-factor approach lends itself to abuse and partisan selective application.

    Consider the following:

    In an upcoming election campaign, a hot issue develops in the gubernatorial (and state legislative) elections about whether the state’ consitution should be amended to define marriage as between a man and a woman. (Or whether the state should recognize same sex marriage, or some variation thereof.)

    What are clergy permitted to say about this?

    Clearly, they cannot say “Vote for X.”

    But can they speak about their religion’s view of marriage? About their religion’s view of homosexualtiy? About whether there is a religious or moral obligation to enact the religion’s views of marriage?

    To bring it closer to home, can a Rav talk about the gemara in Chullin 92a-b that discusses one of the three “mitzvos” which the goyim keep, i.e. refusing to recognizing homosexual “marriage?” About whether it is lifnei iver to vote for a candidate determined to enact same-sex marriage?

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