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IRS Official: We are “Close” to Auditing Churches Again

For some time now, the IRS has not been auditing churches.  As I explained in more detail in this post, the IRS’ decision to “suspend” church audits stems from a 2009 federal court decision finding the IRS’ regulations on church audits to be unlawful.  Since that decision, the IRS, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, has not been auditing any churches.  It has said since 2009 that it is preparing new regulations that will enable it to begin auditing churches again, but we have not seen those regulations finalized.

However, at a recent tax conference, Treasury Attorney-Advisor Ruth Madrigal said that the IRS’ long-awaited rules on church audits are “close” to being finalized.  So what does this mean for churches?

What this means is that once the IRS’ regulations on auditing churches are finalized, then it is logical to assume that the IRS will begin auditing churches again.  Whether this means that the IRS will audit churches that participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday remains to be seen.  We will have to closely watch the IRS’ actions once the church audit rules are finalized.

But ultimately, the constitutional rights of pastors and churches do not turn on whether the IRS decides to audit churches.  Alliance Defending Freedom has said for years that the Johnson Amendment in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code is unconstitutional.  If the IRS audits and penalizes churches for something it believes violates the Johnson Amendment, then Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend the constitutional rights of America’s pastors to speak biblical truth uncensored by the IRS.

For now, we will continue to monitor the situation and will make you aware of any changes the IRS proposes.  As we say here at Alliance Defending Freedom, “You watch your flock, and we’ll watch the horizon.”  And if you have not yet signed up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, please do so today.  This year, Pulpit Freedom Sunday is all about marriage, and America desperately needs to hear what God says about marriage at this crucial time.  Signing up for Pulpit Freedom Sunday is easy and we hope to see thousands of pastors standing united on June 9, 2013, preaching biblical truth about marriage.  Will you be one of those pastors?  Please sign up today.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

“Marriage” Mayhem: Religious Freedom Being Trampled in the Scuffle

Posted on April 2nd, 2013 Religious Freedom | 1 Comment »

You may be tempted to think if marriage is redefined to include same-sex couples, then the whole issue may just go away and the two sides can come to some sort of grudging peace.  Everyone can get on with their lives, right?  Well, not so fast. One of the things that is often overlooked in the debate over marriage is the effect redefining marriage will have on religious freedom.

In short, redefining marriage to include same-sex couples poses a significant threat to religious freedom.  Examples abound to illustrate this fact. 

In New Mexico, a Christian photographer was fined several thousand dollars after she politely declined to use her artistic talents to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony”.

Attempts have been made in Vermont, Illinois, and New Jersey, just to name a few states, to force Christian businesses to open their properties for same-sex wedding ceremonies, in opposition to their sincere religious beliefs.

A city in Kansas attempted to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have forced churches to open their facilities for same-sex weddings regardless of their religious beliefs to the contrary.

A Christian-owned business in Kentucky was accused of unlawful discrimination when it abided by its faith and declined to print t-shirts for a local “pride festival” that celebrates homosexual behavior and same-sex relationships.

These examples illustrate the effect that redefining marriage has on religious freedom.  But the “marriage” issue is more than just about marriage.  The push for same-sex “marriage” is really a broader push to normalize homosexual behavior in society, which also has a negative effect on religious freedom.

The latest example of this is the pressure on the Boy Scouts of America organization to change its membership policy to include individuals who advocate or engage in homosexual behavior.  This may not seem like a true threat to religious freedom, but over 70 percent of chartering organizations for Boy Scout troops are religious organizations.  These churches will face a difficult choice if the Boy Scouts’ leadership changes its policy.  Do the churches abide by their religious beliefs and cease being a chartering organization? 

These kinds of choices are faced by Christians across America with increasing frequency.  We must not forget the simple fact that religious freedom is the casualty of a society that embraces same-sex “marriage” and the normalization of homosexual behavior.

But we are not powerless.  The voice of the church is needed now more than ever.  In this moment, there are at least two things you and your church can do:

            1.  Sign up to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday on June 9, 2013.  On that day, pastors across America will stand together and preach sermons about what Scripture says regarding God’s design for marriage and sexual behavior.  Pastors have traditionally led the way in speaking to our culture at times when we have been confronted with momentous questions.  It was pastors who spoke out against slavery, child labor, and for civil rights and women’s suffrage.  Pastors have a lot to say about marriage – the first institution that God created.  And society needs to hear what the church has to say.

            2.         Sign the petition to encourage the Boy Scouts of America to stand strong and resist pressure to change its membership policy.  If your church is a chartering organization for a Boy Scout troop, download our sample policy you can adopt to prepare your church in the event the Boy Scouts do change membership requirements.

Now is not the time for America’s churches to be silent.  Because together we can speak up to protect religious freedom.

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In Gilbert, Arizona, Churches Ride On The Back Of The Free Speech Bus

Posted on April 2nd, 2013 Equal Access | 1 Comment »

Jeremy Tedesco, Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel

Rarely can the essence of a lawsuit be captured through pictures. But in Alliance Defending Freedom’s case involving a tiny Church’s First Amendment challenge to the Town of Gilbert’s discriminatory treatment of signs advertising its religious services, a picture truly speaks a thousand words.  Consider these two pictures:

Town officials view the sign on the left, which advertises our client’s Church services, as a constitutional crisis, and thus impose incredibly stringent limitations on the placement of such signs.  Yet these same officials see no problem with the proliferation of political signs, like those depicted in the picture on the right.  In fact, we presented the court with dozens of pictures showing how the Town permits the placement of numerous political signs at intersections throughout Gilbert.

The constitutional problem with the Town’s sign code is that it treats temporary signs VASTLY differently based on what they say.  In First Amendment parlance, this is called “content-based discrimination,” and it is a major constitutional no-no.

The Town’s sign code violates this core First Amendment principle in many ways.  One of them is by imposing highly restrictive requirements (related to size, duration, etc.) on the Church’s signs that it does not impose on similar temporary signs, like political and ideological signs.  For example, the Church’s signs can only be 6 square feet, while ideological signs can be up to 20 square feet (over 300% larger) and political signs up to 32 square feet (almost 600% larger)!  Also, the Church’s signs can be placed just 12 hours before their services begin and must be taken done 1 hour after they end.  In stark contrast, political signs may be placed 60 days before a primary election and may stay up 15 days after the general election and ideological signs may stay up indefinitely!  (A diagram depicting the code’s differential treatment of signs based on content can be viewed here.)  The Town’s code favors signs bearing political and ideological messages over those bearing religious messages, and that violates the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, a three judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled 2-1 against the Church.  So we filed a petition asking the full Ninth Circuit to rehear the case.  Please join us in praying for a favorable outcome and for this tiny Church’s courageous stand to be vindicated.

If you’ve faced similar disparity in your community when attempting to promote your church or ministry, contact Alliance Defending Freedom through our legal help form online.

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An Early Christmas Present for Religious Liberty

Posted on March 21st, 2013 Religious Freedom | 1 Comment »

By Rory Gray, Alliance Defending Freedom Litigation Counsel

Religious liberty received an early Christmas present a few weeks back when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. City of Warren.  The opinion gives a new take on what is now a familiar legal story.  The City of Warren, Michigan put up a holiday display in its civic center that included a smorgasbord of nonreligious items, including ribbons, ornaments, reindeer, wreaths, elves, gift boxes, etc., and one religious one—a nativity scene.  True to form, the Grinch more commonly known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation (“FFRF”) turned up to complain that the nativity scene violated the Establishment Clause.  But the city mayor stuck to his guns and refused to remove it.  So FFRF tried a different tack; it submitted a large sandwich-board sign for inclusion in the display that, among other festive gems, proclaimed that:

 

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
No heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world,
Religion is but
Myth and superstition
That hardens hearts
And enslaves minds.

Clearly recognizing FFRF’s sign for what it was, a venomous attack on religion designed to scuttle the holiday display altogether, the city mayor refused to include it.  FFRF then filed a lawsuit.  The district court ultimately rejected FFRF’s arguments and so did the Sixth Circuit.

In an excellent opinion written by Judge Sutton, the Sixth Circuit explained that a “nativity scene, when accompanied by [a] collection of secular and seasonal symbols, does not amount to an establishment of religion or for that matter an impermissible endorsement of it.”    Indeed, this argument seems rather silly in light of the fact that the Supreme Court has proclaimed that “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a supreme Being” and Congress has enacted “a law devoted to spiritual matters … called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, all without violating the Establishment Clause.”

The clear lesson of this story is that “when government speaks for itself,” “strict neutrality” is not required.  Otherwise, the postal service couldn’t add a religious Christmas stamp without designing a nonreligious counterpart, “Veterans’ Day would lead to Pacifism Day, the Fourth of July to Non-Patriots Day, and so on.”  That is not the law.  Government is free to keep items, like FFRF’s sign, out of its holiday display and may “choose to add a nativity scene (so long as it did not violate the Establishment Clause)” or “add an angel,” while “keep[ing] out a devil.”  “[A]ccountability” for these choices is “through the democratic process.”

So if your town sponsors a holiday display next December, advocate for a nativity scene to be included.  Each one is an important reminder that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, not Rudolph however charming his bright nose.  And as an added benefit, nativity scenes in public displays visibly deny the strict “separation of church and state,” which is a mirage built of groups like FFRF’s wishful thinking, not the First Amendment’s text.

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Will your church be forced to evict its Boy Scout Troop?

Posted on March 15th, 2013 Culture | 4 Comments »

I was a Boy Scout growing up.  My troop met in a Methodist Church in my hometown and I distinctly remember our weekly meetings at the church in a Sunday School room.  We met at the church parking lot before campouts. We showed up in uniform at the church every year for Scout Sunday.  I spent a lot of time at that Methodist church (even though I didn’t attend there) and when the time came, I held my Eagle Scout Court of Honor in the chapel of the church.

Now, years later, I’m the Den Leader for my son’s Webelos Den.  We meet at a local Presbyterian church in town. We hold our activities there, including our yearly Blue and Gold banquet and our Pack meetings. My son was just awarded the Cub Scout Arrow of Light in the church’s gym.

I suppose my story is not much different than most other Scouts in America. For Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, the physical location of a church is inextricably intertwined with Scouting.  Churches are the quintessential meeting spaces for Scout troops. That’s because every Scout unit must be chartered by a local organization and seventy percent of all chartering organizations are churches. Churches are chartering organizations because they believe in the good of Scouting for boys.

So what happens to these churches if the Boy Scouts changes its membership policy to allow those who advocate or engage in homosexual behavior to become Scouts and leaders?  Most of the churches that charter Scout troops have a sincere religious belief against homosexual behavior. So if the membership policy changes, these churches will be on the horns of a dilemma. Do they prohibit the Scout troops from meeting in their church buildings, or do they ignore their sincere religious beliefs? This is a very real dilemma for churches that are committed to allowing their facilities to be used only in ways consistent with their faith.

Forcing churches to stop hosting Scout troops is a big step in the process of sidelining churches.  And we’ve seen enough attempts to render the Church irrelevant in the community. Churches used to be integral partners in the communities but now they are pushed out of the community by unconstitutional zoning codes.  Attempts are made to tax churches as if they are just another business or, in one case, to tax it completely out of existence despite its outreach efforts to the poor. Some have even proposed forcing church facilities to be used for same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Now is the time for the Boy Scouts to hear the Church’s voice on this issue. Take a moment and sign the petition to encourage the Scouts to retain their current membership policy. Forward the link to the petition to all the members of your congregation and encourage them to sign it as well.

The Boy Scouts will listen to America’s churches. The current leadership of the Boy Scouts likely had a similar experience as I did and remember fondly the church that hosted their Scout troop. Sign the petition today. Let’s continue the history of Scouting in America’s churches for the next generation of Scouts who will be tomorrow’s leaders.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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