Politics and the Pulpit – Part Three – Churches are Automatically Tax Exempt by Law

March 10, 2014

Below is my latest column, Politics and the Pulpit: Part Three: Churches are Automatically Tax Exempt by Law, but first let me give you some other important updates.

Priests for Life has taken the HHS Mandate to the Supreme Court! Check our website for an important press release later today!

Lent has begun and I invite you to join in a Lenten Prayer for Life from March 5 – April 17.  Use the prayer in your family and prayer groups and ask your Pastor to have the congregation say the prayer after each Mass.  Find the prayer at PrayerCampaign.org.

We have more great products for this holy season to aid in your prayer and reflection.  Order them at our online store at ProLifeProducts.org or send us an email at orders@priestsforlife.org.  They are:

– The Cross and the People of Life: The Seven Last Words and a Good Friday Homily.  This is a 2 CD set of me preaching the Seven Last Words at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Weaving the themes of the Passion and the pro-life cause, I give a Biblically based, stirring call to draw strength from the cross to advance the Gospel of Life. Also includes my homily at the Liturgy of the Passion.

– The Way of the Cross for Families: This is a collaborative effort of Priests for Life and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. It is a special gift and blessing for families, because there is a deep connection between the mysteries of Our Lord’s Passion and the mystery of the family. This booklet is 55 pages and includes colorful illustrations.

– In the Palm of His Hand:  This popular little prayer book has been revised and expanded to include additional prayers to enrich your private and public prayer to bring about a culture of life. This little treasury of prayer now includes your favorite novenas, found at PrayerCampaign.org, post-abortion healing prayers and more. 58 pages.

– Rosary for Life CD – Be among the first to order this brand new product, to be released March 25. Pray the Rosary along with me through this CD and its pro-life meditations on each Mystery!

Also, now would be the time to order a supply of our Easter Prayer for Life prayer cards to receive them in plenty of time.  The prayer campaign will take place from Easter Sunday to Pentecost.

We are always looking for new ways to stay connected with you, our family of pro-life activists, and to inform you of developments and action items in the pro-life movement.  Our latest tool is a texting service by which, if you text Life1 to 69302, you will be able to receive important updates via text. These will not be frequent at all, but only in the cases of the most important updates. We will only text you on rare and truly important occasions. The normal flow of information comes through our email updates and social networking. So don’t worry about being bombarded. And, of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.  But when there are texts that we send you, you will not want to miss out on them. So sign up today by texting Life1 to 69302, and thank you for your pro-life commitment!

Finally, brand new episodes of our Defending Life show have begun on EWTN.  You can see what episode will be playing each week by viewing our media schedule, and you can learn more about the entire series at DefendingLife.tv.

Thank you for reading this and please spread it to as many others on your email list and social networks as you can!

With prayers,


Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director

Praise for our work

I have just received a carton of pro-life materials sent to us by Priests for Life.  We at the Family Light of the Nation Foundation are really very grateful.  Your Organisation has enriched us.  We cannot thank you enough.  Our prayer is that God continues to bless your pro-life apostolate with success and give each and every one of you the strength and the knowledge you need as you work in His vineyard.  Thanks so much.  Let us continue to communicate with each other as we depend on you for more knowledge and spiritual empowerment, God’s blessings. – Sr. M. Rosanna, Nigeria

Politics and the Pulpit – Part Three – Churches are Automatically Tax Exempt by Law

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

It’s an election year again, and unless we’re careful, we can easily be misled by vague assertions about “the dangers of losing our tax-exempt status.”

Let me state categorically from the outset: it’s not going to happen, period.

In this current series of columns, we are exploring and exploding some of the myths surrounding “tax exemption” and the silly ways we strangle our own freedom to speak the truth about elections.

What may come as a surprise for many is that Churches are not tax-exempt because of a form they fill out and a letter of determination that they receive from the government. Rather, Churches are already automatically tax exempt by law. Whether they seek a determination of that status from the government by filling out a form and receiving a letter is entirely up to them, if they want a piece of paper that proves that they have the exemption. But even without the piece of paper, they have the exemption anyway, as long as their mission corresponds to the criteria of tax-exempt entities. Under the IRC, the section that talks about this “mandatory exception” rule for Churches is section 508(c)(1)(A).

The federal court case Branch Ministries v. Rossotti  (211 F.3d 137 (D.C. Cir. 2000)) refers to this fact when it says,

“Although most organizations seeking tax-exempt status are required to apply to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS” or “Service”) for an advance determination that they meet the requirements of section 501(c)(3), id. § 508(a), a church may simply hold itself out as tax exempt and receive the benefits of that status without applying for advance recognition from the IRS. Id. § 508(c)(1)(A).”

The tax exemption of Churches actually dates back to ancient times. As the Supreme Court itself has noted, there is an “unbroken” history of such exemption in our country, and it “covers our entire national existence and indeed predates it” (Walz v. Tax Comm’n, 397 U.S. 664, 678 (1970)). As Erik W. Stanley points out in an article on which I will rely heavily in this chapter, “[T]he unassailable fact remains that, for as long as anyone can remember, churches have always been tax-exempt or enjoyed favorable tax treatment” (LBJ, The IRS, and Churches: The Unconstitutionality of the Johnson Amendment in Light of Recent Supreme Court Precedent, Regent University Law Review, Volume 24, 2011-2012, Number 2). The article refers to examples of the tax exemption of Churches from the priests of ancient Egypt and from ancient Sumeria in 2800 B.C.!

This is understandable from the perspective of our own Constitution and from a consideration of the nature of the Church. “My kingdom is not of this world,” the Lord said. The Church is the breaking into history of the Kingdom of God. As we have already seen, good Christians are called to be good citizens. These identities are not incompatible. But neither are they identical, and that is why the Church does not seek permission for its mission from civil government, and our Constitution does not presume the authority to give such permission. Hence the First Amendment declared, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

So Churches are tax exempt by law. Most of them take the additional step of seeking a letter of determination from the government, and most will organize their activities under the umbrella of a section 501(c)(3) entity. But they do not have to do that either. A Church could choose to organize some of its activities under the c3 umbrella and others under the c4 model, or even organize an LLC or LL Partnership, hence allowing additional freedom.

More to follow in my next column!

This column can be read and listened to online.

Comments on this column? Go to Askfrfrank.com

Fr. Frank’s columns are podcast. See Priestsforlife.org/podcast

Remember to support our work at Priestsforlife.org/donate

Media Schedule

Fr. Denis Wilde, O.S.A. will celebrate the EWTN live televised Mass on March 11, 12, 13.  The Mass airs live at 8 am and repeats at 12 noon, 7 pm and 12 midnight (all times Eastern).  Repeat airing times are subject to change.  See the airing schedule on the EWTN website for final repeat airing times.

Defending Life Defending Life TV/Radio

Defending Life is pre-empted for the week of March 10 but tune in on next week for a brand new episode, History of Recovering Aborted Babies for Burial.  Watch on EWTN Wednesdays at 2:30 am and Thursdays at 11:00 pm. Listen on EWTN Radio every Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5 a.m. (All times Eastern)

The Catholic View for Women

Airing Schedule: Wednesday, 03/12/2014 at 11:00 PM and Friday, 03/14/2014 at 10:30 AM

This Week’s Topic: Hispanic Women, Catechesis, and the Church.  Teresa, Janet and Astrid discuss the faith of Hispanic women and the urgent need for catechesis.

Gospel of Life TV

Airing Schedule: Watch on  National Religious Broadcasters network (NRB), Wednesday, March 12 at 4:30 pm ET. The NRB Network is on DIRECTV, channel 378.  This Week’s Topic: What is Heartbeat International?

Priests for Life
PO Box 141172
Staten Island, NY 10314
Phone: 888-PFL-3448
Fax: 718-980-6515
Email: mail@priestsforlife.org

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s