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Question: Should religious institutions involved in politics have a tax-exempt status?

Whether churches and religious institutions have the right to speak about politics from the pulpit is a question of freedom of religion and freedom of speech, both of which are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

To speak about anything and everything without the worry of being taxed or muzzled by the government is indeed the right of religious institutions of America. When has believing or speaking been a privilege that we, or even churches, have had to pay for?

Taxes are collected as the cost of enjoying specific privileges, such as living in the United States, working in Arizona, being a member of the Paradise Valley School District and/or partaking of an alcoholic beverage. These actions are taxed with income taxes, property taxes and liquor taxes.

Churches and religious institutions have officially escaped the fiduciary responsibility of taxation since the birth of the modern tax code in 1913, mostly because American citizens and government officials alike have understood it is criminal to tax people for adhering to a specific creed or even speaking about what they believe.

Until 1954, many people did not even think twice about what is said in front of a church or within the four walls of any religious institution. It was when Lyndon B. Johnson, then a federal legislator, added an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that nonprofit organizations or other tax-exempt entities may not “participate in, or intervene in … any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.”

Now, at the urging of atheistic and agnostic organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the government has called political speech from the pulpit a violation of the alleged “wall of separation of church and state.” Interestingly, this “wall” was never constructed in any of our nation’s founding documents, although briefly mentioned by Thomas Jefferson, the most secular founding father. However, this same man also wrote “[t]he constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.”

What we are talking about is an ideal that predates Jefferson, church tax-exemption and the modern debacle over separation of church and state — an ideal which is indeed quintessential to the American soul, an ideal that has brought millions of people from around the world to this continent since the days of the Pilgrims — religious freedom.

Our founding fathers protected it with the First Amendment. Johnson tried to stifle it with his 1954 amendment. And when we have to pay the government for the right to believe (freedom of religion) or speak about what we believe (freedom of speech), it cuts to the heart of the fundamental freedom of our souls and our freedom of conscience.

When a government built on the fundamental principle of religious freedom can bully churches and religious institutions, threatening them with removal of tax exemption because of what they say about a specific social or political issue in light of their holy books, that government can and eventually will stop at nothing to shut up any other entity or person who objects to its growing power.

Once those with a secular agenda succeed in persuading the government to silence the church and secure its muzzle, they will induce that government to find another entity, organization or individual to silence. By protecting churches’ tax-exempt status, no matter what church leaders and members want to speak about, we are protecting ourselves from being shut up when we want to speak up.

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