Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Delves Into Politics in Grand Junction: Is it Legal?

 

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at H and 26 1/2 Roads in Grand Junction is irritating some people in nearby Paradise Hills with their political signs

The Immaculate Heart of Mary Church at H and 26 1/2 Roads in Grand Junction is irritating some residents of Paradise Hills with their political signs. Is it illegal?

Paradise Hills residents have been contacting Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers expressing their irritation and asking if it is legal for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, which dominates their neighborhood, to display political signs opposing Proposition 106, the “Colorado End of Life Options Act,” on their lawns along the streets on two sides of their property.

Proposition 106 would give terminally-ill patients 18 years or older the right to obtain life-ending sleeping medication from a licensed doctor.Two doctors would have to confirm the prognosis; the patient must be given information about other care and treatment options, and must affirm he or she is making a voluntary and informed decision in requesting the medication. The measure would require patients to have a prognosis of death within six months. The patient would have to make two oral requests for the medication to their doctor at least 15 days apart, as well as submit one written request. The measure is aimed at minimizing the suffering of terminally ill people in Colorado prior to their inevitable death.

The Archdiocese of Denver has put $1 million into fighting the measure, and is joined in its opposition by Focus on the Family and Colorado Christian University, which also have donated thousands towards defeating the measure.

Is It Legal for a Church to Engage in Politics?

Egged on by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a sort of right-wing, religious counterpart to the ALCU that sues to inject religion into the public sphere, in recent years churches have increasingly defied IRS rules and intentionally worked to influence politics, and now Immaculate Heart of Mary Church is jumping into the fray. Churches are IRS registered 501-c-3 charities, and in exchange for agreeing to the terms of their IRS designation, they get the privilege of paying no tax on their income, and avoiding paying property taxes.

But the IRS does not permit churches to endorse or oppose any candidate for public office, period. Doing so is considered politicking and is completely out of bounds. However, churches get a bit more leeway when it comes to initiatives and referenda, because they are legislative measures, and advocating for or against them is considered “lobbying” rather than “politicking.” Churches can engage in a limited amount of lobbying, as long as they do not engage in “substantial” lobbying, for example by spending “substantial” time and money on a campaign for or against a measure, or on attempting to influence the greater public. What constitutes “substantial” lobbying, however, is subject to evaluation by the IRS.

Another question is whether a church is attempting to influence only it’s own parish members or the greater public as to how to vote on a ballot issue. Placing lawn signs along a public roadway arguably is an attempt to influence a greater audience beyond just members of its own congregation. This can constitute electioneering, and potentially put a church’s activities out of bounds. It also raises other questions about the whether the lobbying crosses a line, because local taxpayers — including people who don’t belong to the church — are technically subsidizing the display of lawn signs placed on a church’s tax-exempt property.

Churches Must Report All Political Activity to the IRS, & IF They Don’t. You Can Report it For Them

Churches must report to the IRS any activity they engage in that is aimed at influencing the general public to vote a certain way on a ballot measure. If a church puts up a sign that clearly urges people to vote one way or another a ballot initiative, it may need to register as a campaign committee or, at the very least, report the sign(s) as in-kind contribution. The reason is because churches must be held accountable for their politicking, since by using signage on their premises or their marquees to try to influence the outcome of an election, they are forcing taxpayers to subsidize their political speech.

In any case, a church that engages in attempts to influence the greater public in an election walks a thin line and, depending on their activities, might be violating the terms of their IRS 501-c-3 charitable designation. The IRS will need to evaluate whether a church has violated the terms of their charitable designation, or not.

With that in mind, if you feel that a church in your neighborhood is violating the law, the best thing to do is to document the perceived violation with photographs, dates and times and submit a formal complaint to the IRS using the Department of the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service Form 13909: Tax-Exempt Organization Complaint form (pdf). You can fill the form out online and send it in to the IRS, along with any supporting documentation, via the U.S. mail to

IRS EO Classification
Mail Code 4910DAL
1100 Commerce Street Dallas, TX 75242-1198

…or fax it to (214) 413-5415, or email it to eoclass@irs.gov


Additional information:

IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations (pdf)

 

 

 

 

13 comments for “Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Delves Into Politics in Grand Junction: Is it Legal?

  1. Rob Fiedler
    October 2, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    Help me out here, does not the constitution allow freedom of speech? Even though we might not agree. I’m also curious as to who the “complaints” are, or do the hid behind your blog. And seem to remember vaguely about being able to face one’s accusers.

    • Scott
      October 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

      Freedom of speech applies to citizens. A church is not a citizen. If the members of the congregation wanted to place signs like that in their own yards, there would be no problem.

      Churches are tax exempt. They get special treatment under the law, and in exchange for that special treatment are supposed to remain politically neutral.

  2. Sal
    September 30, 2016 at 5:44 am

    Are these “atheists” the same people that rush to CHRISTMAS shopping on black Friday?
    Give me a brake!!!!!!!

    • Scott
      September 30, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Why can’t atheists celebrate Christmas?

      But personally, I stay away from stores on Black Friday.

    • Vestal
      October 1, 2016 at 6:23 am

      Yep. And they’re enjoying the last minute sales just as much as the Christians making a mad dash for christams shopping.

      By the way, what kind of brake job would you like? Front, rear or total?

  3. de
    September 29, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    So, Big Corporations can lobby for political issues (consider Monsanto and anti GMO labeling attacks, or ‘Citizens United’) but a little church with real people cannot? Strange world we live in.
    I would say that the only people that should protest, and correctly, the church’s political signs would be their own church members that disagree with fellow members. That would make sense.
    If it is ‘technically’ illegal, given IRS rules, post opinionated political signs…then, ok but we know that Technicalities can get anyone in trouble or out of trouble. It was technically illegal to harbor fleeing Jews in Nazi Germany; but people did it anyway. It was illegal to help fleeing slaves before the Civil War in the US. It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. If you get my drift. Etc. etc. Let’s worry about real problems.
    Like a post today, on Yahoo, on a potential EMP attack on the US by North Korea that would take us back to the Stone Age overnight. (no kidding)

    • Scott
      September 29, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      So because there are bigger problems, we should let people get away with breaking the law? I doubt that tactic would go over terribly well if you tried shoplifting at WalMart. Why should it work in this case?

      • de
        September 29, 2016 at 9:49 pm

        No, the point was that laws are often politically/financially driven. They are not really ‘Law’ at all, but oligarchic meddling (Washington Lobbyists anyone?) These laws probably should be repealed. The law against shoplifting is commonsense: it is stealing. Laws to remove, eg., rights under the ‘Bill of Rights’, or amendments, in the US Constitution such as ‘free speech’, ‘free assembly’ (right to protest and such) would not be ‘law’ in the US but merely Statutory ‘law’, since it would contradict the basis of Law here, the US Constitution (so the ‘tea party’ folks actually are correctly concerned here.) So commonsense has to come into play here.

        • Scott
          September 30, 2016 at 4:08 pm

          What is common sense to you isn’t to others.

          • de
            September 30, 2016 at 10:26 pm

            A good book touching on the breakdown of ‘common sense’ in America was written years ago by Alan Bloom, I believe. “The Closing of the American Mind”. He talks of the fact that modern Americans have no common meanings in our use of language. We cannot communicate any longer. The varied comments we read on any blog or website article shows how far we are from understanding each other. Definitions of words are all over the map these days (My grandmother was upset in the 1970’s that the word ‘gay’ when she was young meant ‘happy’ and she couldn’t use it anymore). For example, ‘Freedom’ means freedom from the tyranny of inner drives to a religious person; but individual ‘license’ to do whatever feels good to a libertine or libertarian. One can debate which is a better inner state for our psychological health, but today, we can’t even have that discussion. So: no ‘common’ sense is possible. The comment below is sort of accurate in that way. No more United States, but Untied States.

    • Vestal
      October 1, 2016 at 6:34 am

      So corporations aren’t made up of real people? Have the corporations perfected some kind of android technology which allows them to replace real people with robots?

      Aside from that, read up on the Constitution (specifically as it pertains to religion) and religious persecution in England prior to 1800 or so and maybe, just maybe you’ll begin to understand why church and state are best kept separated.

      The separation keeps any one belief system from ruling the country (learn from history; see England prior to 1800). I would hate to see the draconian system Christians would stand up in this Country if they had free reign to do as they please in regards to law, all that has been gained in the last 240 years would be undone and/or lost within 50 years.

      • Scott
        October 1, 2016 at 10:34 am

        In fairness, there are so many different beliefs that are crammed under the umbrella of Christianity that they would probably be unable to institute a single system without a factional war.

      • de
        October 1, 2016 at 11:20 am

        Scott has a point there. Every belief system, whether Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Atheist or ‘New Age’ has so many different variations that it becomes almost impossible to talk about it intelligently.
        How many people know for instance that Ancient Christianity (pre-R.Catholic and Protestant, ie., Eastern) has a lot in common regarding inner psychological ‘work’ with certain forms of Buddhism (mindfulness, inner awareness of ‘attachments’-Budd, or ‘passions’-Chris) or Chinese Taoism? We talk too easily about things we know little about. A weakness of us all as Americans. I’m guilty of this also….

        The comment about corporations, I’m not sure what is being said. Corporations got the legal status of “person” awhile ago which is causing a lot of injustices regarding campaign funding by large corporations to lobby on many issues (unethical power far beyond that of the little church of people who are simply trying to express their worries about our cultural drift with a sign in their yard) Rights and civil liberties groups are trying to get that corporate decision overturned.

        The ‘church and state’ separation was originally instituted to protect individuals from having government force them to follow any state-established belief system (like the former Communist Soviet Union outlawing all religions except the ‘glorification of the Communist Party, Atheism and Marxist theory, a 70 year long tragedy starting in 1917). We don’t need to protect any government from small groups of ‘religious’ believers, they don’t have that power. They can only be obnoxious at times, which we need to counter by explaining why they are mistaken, IF we see it clearly ourselves through experience.

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