Few Americans would invite an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, but that's exactly what Minnesota pastor Gus Booth wanted when he stood behind his pulpit and told his congregation God wanted them to vote Republican.
In an election where candidates openly discuss their faith and are regularly seen in churches, and a time when pastors' sermons lead the politics sections of newspapers, one might be excused for not knowing that it is illegal for a church to endorse or oppose a candidate for president.
But when Booth addressed the members of his Warroad Community Church one Sunday in May and told them, "If you are a Christian, you cannot support a candidate like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for president," he very much knew he was violating the law. He even wrote a letter to the IRS explaining what he had said and challenging the tax collection agency to do something about it.
Churches and other non-profit groups like charities and universities do not have to pay taxes. That exemption, however, comes with a price. Churches, and by extension the pastors who serve them in an official capacity, are not allowed to endorse or oppose political candidates.
Booth, 34, is one of several religious leaders who this year hope to challenge federal law by flouting the regulations about endorsing candidates from the pulpit -- a move that could potentially cost them their tax-exempt status, creating financial ruin for many congregations.
The separation of church and state may be one of our democracy's most vaunted values, but its enforcement falls to one of our government's most derided institutions -- the IRS.
Emphasis added by me.
He has willfully flouted the law. As have others!
If the Church will not separate from the State, then it is time for it to fall under the Law of the State.
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
-- Matthew 22:15-21
Churches: I perceive your wickedness. If you cannot do a simple thing like obey the law -- which you exhort your flock to do! -- then it's time for you to lose your special privileges.
You begin paying all taxes.
Your exemptions -- all of them -- are gone.
If you don't like that, you can always leave Caesar's world. Don't you look forward to that day anyway? Please hasten to go there!