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Revoke the Mormons' 501(c)(3) Status?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   13 comments

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On November 4th, the people of California, arguably the nation's bluest state, voted in favor of Proposition 8, to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage in the so-called Golden State. But, just as silence is not really so golden, especially in the face of oppression, neither is the Prop 8 outcome. After all, this is America, where constitutional amendments are typically enacted to grant new rights, not to take rights away from an arbitrarily selected minority group. Given this nation's founding proclamation that "all men are created equal" (that's all men, not just the straight ones), the latter seems to me to be downright un-American. Also un-American is the force behind this abomination: A handful of religious groups, led in large part by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka the Mormons). The Mormons, based in Utah, pumped some $20 million into its campaign to pass California's Prop 8, thereby allowing them to catapult the propaganda to the point of passage. The Mormons were allegedly joined in their agenda of intolerance by Catholic groups like the Knights of Columbus ($1.25 million) and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ($200,000). When I was a child growing up in a religious household, I was taught that churches (especially the Catholic Church, in my case) were the good guys, and that God was about love. Later I grew up and came to understand that we are complex biological creatures, with natural biological attractions to either the opposite sex, the same sex, or both -- just like the pair of gay turtles I observed one day. God (i.e., nature) created them, and he/she/it created you, with your innate sexual orientation. That, dear reader, is a mere chromosomal detail -- much smaller indeed than the more widely applicable mandates to "love thy neighbor" and "do unto others..." But these positive, pro-love portions of the gospel are apparently lost on those politically involved "religious" groups with an agenda. For some reason, they saw fit to throw lots of money and energy into taking rights away from people whom they apparently do not understand. All in the name of their invisible sky-god. And that bottom line is where the rubber meets the road. Churches enjoy 501(c)(3) status as tax-exempt religious organizations. But with privilege comes responsibility. And so with 501(c)(3) status comes the obligation to refrain from most types of political activity. Section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code has this to say about the exemption requirements for churches and other organizations that enjoy tax-exempt status:
To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization [...] may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities.
Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct.
Read it again: It may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities. But by throwing $20 million at Prop 8, that appears to be exactly what the Mormon Church is doing. The same applies to those smaller Catholic groups who also contributed a significant amount of money to the cause of inequality. So is this enough to revoke the Mormons' tax-exempt status? I am not a tax attorney, but I can certainly hope so. And there already are various grassroots efforts in place to start the process. I hope these efforts work, but I am not optimistic. The Mormon Church is big, rich, and powerful. And the IRS code is worded somewhat vaguely when it says that an organization "may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities." The word "substantial" here is key, and it may be ambiguous enough to give the Mormons a semantic loophole to slide through. Time will tell. But I believe that churches, or any other tax-exempt organization, should be subject to the rules. There is good reason why our Founding Fathers fought so hard to write Church-State separation into this nation's Constitution.


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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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