IRS Targets Political Churches

Churches that preach politics from the pulpit (or have preached it in the past) may soon find themselves without their non-profit status as well as owing back taxes.

The IRS has begun aggressive enforcement in connection with its Political Activity Compliance Initiative aimed at educating non-profit organizations about the ban on political activity.

Last week the IRS ordered All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California to turn over documents and emails it produced during the 2004 election season in connection with an investigation started last November. The church, according to the IRS, has been directly engaging in political activities which would violate the church's charter as a non-profit organization.

Political organizations, unlike churches, must pay taxes. In 2004, the IRS investigated 110 cases of non-profits engaging in political activity. Out of those, 47 involved churches.

Some of the activity the IRS found to be improper were:

  • Printing documentation supporting political candidates or positions
  • Church officials delivering speeches during church services or functions
  • Candidates speaking at church services or functions
  • Churches making endorsements or contributions to candidates

When the IRS discovers a one-time violation, the organization generally receives counseling and a "written advisory" to ensure tax laws are understood.

Multiple violations, or a history of repeated violations can bring tax sanctions and, ultimately, forfeiture of non-profit status.

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