Monday, May 30, 2022

The Right To Be Vile In Church

For some really serious right-wing hatred, you can travel to something called the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Or maybe you can't listen there to pastor Greg Locke, present at the Capitol on January 6, 2020,  who has said "said that those who wore masks to his church would be asked to leave and discouraged his congregation from getting vaccinated.."

On May 15, Locke stated

You cannot be a Christian and vote Democrat in this nation. I don't care how mad that makes you.... They are God-denying demons, butcher babies, and hate this nation.....

 You cannot be a Democrat and be a Christian. You cannot. Somebody say "amen." The rest of you get out. Get out. Get out in the name of Jesus. I ain't playing your stupid games. ...

They want to talk about this insurrection. I'll tell you something. You ain't seen an insurrection yet. You keep pushing our buttons. You go down, sorry compromisers, you God-hating Communists. You'll find out what an insurrection is.

Now, however:

I doubt that a fellow who calls all Democrats "God-hating demons," urges members of his congregation to get themselves killed, and tells people who don't say "amen" to leave his church will voluntarily surrender tax-free status. And contrary to the implication of the tweeter above, it's very unlikely that, in the absence of specifically asking for a vote for or against a specific candidate, it would be yanked from his church. As NPR explained in 2017

The Johnson Amendment regulates what tax-exempt organizations such as churches can do in the political arena.

Under terms of the 1954 legislation (named for its principal sponsor, then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson), churches and other nonprofit organizations that are exempt from taxation "are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office," according to the IRS website.

Organizations claiming tax-exempt status cannot collect contributions on behalf of political campaigns or make any statement for or against a particular candidate. Clergy are not allowed to endorse candidates from the pulpit.

As this document from the Internal Revenue Service suggests, the IRS grants wide latitude to 501(c)(3) organizations without yanking their tax-free status. (See especially situation #5.) Good thing, too, because

A 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center found that black Protestants have been more likely than other Christian groups to report having heard their clergy speak out clearly on the merits or faults of a particular candidate. The study found that 28 percent of black Protestants heard their clergy speak in support of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, while about 1 in 5 black Protestants, about 20 percent, said they had heard their ministers denounce Donald Trump.

By comparison, just 4 percent of white evangelicals reported having heard their clergy speak in favor of a presidential candidate (2 percent each for Trump and Clinton), while 7 percent heard their clergy speak against a candidate (mostly Clinton).

Many churches, from the right or the left, get involved in political advocacy.  It appears that short of recommending a vote for or against a candidate, a church can be nearly as involved in political causes as it wishes without seriously endangering its tax-exempt status. So we may have a great deal more of ostensibly religious figures like Greg Locke in a dystopian future.


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