“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of
religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. …”
The power to tax is the power to destroy.
That’s why the federal government has never before dared
to impose taxes on religious institutions. The Constitution
provides special safeguards against government applying its
coercive power to churches. But, as America drifts further
and further from its constitutional heritage, all that may be
about to change.
A federal court ruling upholding the stripping of tax-exempt
status from a church that warned Christians about Bill
Clinton’s record is another nail in the coffin of the First
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman decided Tuesday the
Internal Revenue Service had acted properly in removing
the tax-exempt status of the Church at Pierce Creek in Vestal,
N.Y., for opposing Clinton in full-page newspaper ads in
Yes, it’s true that the federal tax code prohibits churches
from taking sides in elections. But the First Amendment of
the Constitution clearly prohibits such regulations from
being approved by Congress. It specifically bars Congress
from making any law that inhibits the free exercise of
religion. Since Christians are commanded by scripture to
oppose evil, churches have no choice but to denounce it
wherever they see it — whether it’s an election year or not.
Since taxing churches has been regarded historically in this
country as a violation of the First Amendment, tax-exempt
status cannot be viewed as a special privilege of religious
institutions but rather as an enumerated right.
I know, some of you out there will say: “Farah, the First
Amendment calls for separation of church and state. So
churches have no business interfering in politics.”
Nonsense. The First Amendment does no such thing. Go
back and read it. You will not find those words in the
founding documents. You will, however, see words that
expressly prohibit Congress — the only lawmaking arm of
government — from establishing a church or from blocking
the free exercise of religion. That’s pretty clear. And it’s also
pretty clear that the Constitution takes precedence over the
Now it would be bad enough if the government applied
these illegal tax exemptions even-handedly. In other words,
if every church that got involved in political campaigns
were stripped of their tax-exempt status, it would still be
wrong. It would still be unconstitutional. But, to add insult
to injury, we all know that the restrictive and coercive tax
code is applied unevenly.
For instance, remember those churches that invited Bill
Clinton into the pulpits to make speeches touting his
campaign? Remember the way Jesse Jackson used the
churches for partisan political rallies? There were no IRS
investigations of those practices, let alone removals of
That’s the grave danger posed by such laws.
Once again, we have seen the IRS used as a potent political
weapon by an administration hell-bent on eradicating its
enemies by any means necessary. Non-profits the White
House considers friendly can pretty much do whatever they
want — lobby for specific legislation, support political
campaigns, promote bigger and more oppressive
government antithetical to the Constitution. But just watch
what happens when a non-profit opposes a ruthless power
abuser like Clinton: All hell breaks loose.
The IRS is the most feared government agency in
Washington — for good reason. Churches today are greatly
inhibited from assuming their proper role as a civilizing
influence in our society because of the real threat that
removal of tax-exempt status means to their very survival.
Ultimately, of course, the only real answer to such problems
is the scrapping of the federal income tax code altogether. As
we approach April 15 with fear and trepidation, maybe this
decision will serve as a reminder of the kind of injustice it
has wrought on all of us — not just the occasional activist
church. People, all people – clergymen and laymen alike –
must not be muzzled in any way, shape or form from
participating in political speech and the shaping of public
policy in a free society.
In its advertisement in 1992, the Church at Pierce Creek
warned: “Christian Beware: Do not put the economy ahead
of the Ten Commandments.”
It turned out to be pretty good advice. Here’s some good
advice to Congress: Wake up. Do not let the tax code be
placed ahead of the Constitution. And stop allowing federal
judges to place themselves above God.