Thanks Anyway, Uncle Sam: Churches Don’t Need Government Protection from Politics

In a letter to Congress dated February 7, 2018 (“Letter”), 145 faith-based and secular organizations raised hue and cry against the inclusion of Section 116 of House Bill H.R. 3280 within the proposed federal appropriations bill for 2018 (now incorporated into 115 H.R. 3354). Section 116 does not directly repeal the Johnson Amendment’s prohibition on political campaign involvement by churches and other Section 501(c)(3) organizations. Rather, it provides stringent measures to protect against overzealous governmental interference with constitutionally protected houses of worship, effectively preventing the IRS from revoking churches’ tax-exempt status for partisan communications during election seasons.

Integrated Auxiliaries: Tax Privileges and Qualification

An integrated auxiliary is a creature of tax law:  in a nutshell, it is typically a separately formed legal entity operating a ministry extension of a church or other house of worship.  Integrated auxiliaries may range from an afterschool sports ministry to more complex elder care or housing programs.  Because churches are exempt from the initial exemption and annual Form 990 filing requirements under Section 501(c)(3), so too are churches’ integrated auxiliaries.  These significant benefits warrant careful evaluation with respect to formation of church-related organizations and their tax compliant operations.

FEMA is for Churches Too

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently changed course to allow emergency relief for churches and other religious houses of worship, on par with non-religious organizations and in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran case involving government grants for religious school playgrounds. How do disaster relief, playgrounds, and religious liberty relate to each other?  In a nutshell, as FEMA has now affirmatively recognized, constitutional religious liberty protections mean that religious organizations may not be categorically disqualified from government grants such as for playground materials, to rebuild their houses of worship, or for other programs they may offer - even if they contain religious elements.