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ADF Advice to Churches: "Violate the Tax Law!"

Jeremy Gunn,
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
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September 12, 2008

We couldn’t help but notice that the folks over at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) are encouraging pastors and preachers to violate federal tax laws by engaging in political activities that are now prohibited by the tax code.

Under current law, non-profit organizations, including churches, are not required to pay taxes if they refrain from those political activities that are now prohibited by the tax code. (Some activities are permitted while others are not. We will spare you the details.) Donors to tax-exempt organizations also get a tax break. (For inquiring minds, see what the IRS says.)

Of course, any organization that does not want to be tax-exempt is perfectly free to endorse political candidates and to engage in lobbying (as long as they don’t violate other laws like campaign finance). But under current law, you can’t have your cake (tax-exempt status) and eat it, too (violate provisions of the tax code).

But rather than explain this trade-off, ADF uses the word “intimidation” to describe the law that gives churches tax exempt status if they agree to comply with the same rules that apply to all other non-profit organizations.



How many other laws that apply equally to churches and to everyone else does ADF consider to be “intimidation”? Speeding laws? (“But I’m late for church, officer.”) Child-abuse laws? Assault and battery laws? (“The heathen deserved it!”) Is it “intimidation” when churches are required to pay for electricity and water just like everyone else?

It needs to be added that ADF has generously offered to provide free legal representation to any church that takes its advice and violates the tax code by engaging in prohibited political activities.

To see just how serious ADF is, we have three little questions for them and one little question for any church that might be thinking of relying on ADF’s advice.

First, did ADF decide that it would itself violate the tax code to show solidarity with others, or is it only recommending that someone else violate the law and take the risk? (“Why don’t you jump into the crocodile pit and I’ll call the doctor!”)

Second, why doesn’t ADF offer to pay the criminal fines of anyone convicted of following its “legal advice” to violate the tax code? (Hint, hint for anyone thinking of taking up ADF’s offer.)

Third, has ADF’s “crack” legal team fully considered its own liability under federal conspiracy laws in conjunction with its efforts to encourage others to violate the law? (We thought not! Here are some helpful cites: 18 U.S.C. § 371; 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2). We find. You decide.)

And finally, for well-intended churches out there who really want to do the right thing, what quality of legal representation could you reasonably expect to receive from someone encouraging you to violate the tax laws?

As they say, with friends like ADF . . . .