Endorsing candidates and tax deductions—An article by Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

This is an article by Rabbi Merrill Shapiro:

The Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus telling those assembled, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money”.

February 2, 2017: “The president said he would “totally destroy” the federal tax law from 1945 that prevents tax-exempt groups, like churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.”

It comes as no surprise that we have government officials who are unaware of the fact that “tax-exempt groups, like churches” are protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution when it comes to “endorsing or opposing political candidates!”  They have always had these protections.  No one has ever threatened to take away these protections.

Our Federal Tax Code provides a wonderful and important benefit to non-profit organizations such as our own First Coast Freethought Society and houses of worship throughout our great land.  As you know, when you make a donation to the First Coast Freethought Society (and I hope you will and be generous at the same time), you can, generally (yes, there are exceptions) deduct the amount of such a donation on your Internal Revenue Service Form 1040, Schedule A.  This is a powerful incentive to be generous to non-profits who do, after all, serve an important service to our community and our country.

In return for the status of being able to receive those donations that are, in most cases, deducted from the donor’s tax computation, non-profit organizations must follow several rules.  One of those rules is that they cannot engage in partisan political activity.

Non-profit organizations are in no way required to participate in this program.  They can solicit donations and tell their donors that the donations are not tax deductible.  (By the way, your contribution to political campaigns and organizations is also not deductible.) Then the organization is free to engage in partisan political activity, endorse candidates, support those aspiring to public office and no holds are barred!

So the real issue is not whether or not Houses of Worship and other religious organizations can endorse and support political candidates and engage in partisan political activities.  The issue is whether they can do so and still make use of the powerful incentive to have people make donations by having those donations be tax deductible.

So, this is not about any limitation of rights, free speech rights or otherwise.  This is about money, Mammon, personified in Medieval Christian lore as a deity and sometimes included in the seven princes of Hell!

Let’s keep our religious communities honest.  Let’s remind them that the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus telling those assembled, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money”.

by Rabbi Merrill Shapiro

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