Penalize church for politicking, FFRF urges IRS

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the IRS to take action against a multistate church for its blatant electioneering

On March 20, Ken Peters, head pastor of Patriot Church’s Knoxville, Tenn., campus, openly endorsed Monty Fritts, a candidate for the Tennessee House in District 32, and allowed Fritts to speak to his congregation. Before introducing Fritts, Peters mocked the requirements of a 501(c)(3), and implicitly the IRS’ enforcement of the rules regulating 501(c)(3)s. He also admitted to endorsing political candidates

We have a guest who is running for office … In case you are thinking, “Whoa, you’re not allowed to endorse candidates at church!,” you’re at the wrong church. This is Patriot Church! We endorse whoever we want to endorse. 

And you’re, like, “Well, what about your 501(c)(3)?” 

Well, two things there. Number one, I had a 501(c)(3) in Spokane. That never stopped me. OK? But when we started this church here in Tennessee, we are not a 501(c)(3), so we can do whatever the … we want! Whatever we want! We’re a free church! Feels good to be free. Now, the 501(c)(3) never stopped me, but at least I don’t even have to think about it now. We’re a 508(1)(a), which is in the IRS code. It’s totally awesome and cool. We’re a free church. So we do endorse candidates. 

Patriot Church is a church network with campuses in Knoxville, Spokane, Wash., Moses Lake, Wash., Lynchburg, Va., and Houston. FFRF is a registered 501(c)(3) and it takes this designation, along with the accompanying benefits and responsibilities, very seriously. However, some churches have chosen to make a mockery of their 501(c)(3) status by reaping all of the benefits while openly engaging in politics and endorsing political candidates. One such organization is the Patriot Church, FFRF underscores. 

“Churches that meet the requirements of section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of exempt status from the IRS.,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig. “Donors are allowed to claim a charitable deduction for donations to a church that meets the section 501(c)(3) requirements, even though the church has neither sought nor received IRS recognition that it is tax exempt.” 

Peters’ erroneous claim that Patriot Church is “a 508(1)(a)” does not affect this recognition nor the benefits and burdens it imposes, FFRF emphasizes. Peters is likely referring to section 508(c)(1)(a) of the IRS Code, which grants churches all the rights and responsibilities of being a 501(c)(3) regardless of whether or not they apply for official recognition. 

IRS regulations also specify that 501(c)(3) organizations, which include churches and other religious organizations, are prohibited from “[participating in or intervening in] . . . any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.” Patriot Church’s mistaken belief that it is a “508(1)(a),” and that this is a loophole to receive all the benefits of 501(c)(3) recognition without the burdens, is clearly mistaken. Due to the fact that Patriot Church regularly endorses political candidates, it should no longer receive the benefits of 501(c)(3) recognition, including tax-exempt status. FFRF wrote to the IRS last summer regarding a similarly problematic event held at Patriot Church’s Lynchburg campus that endorsed Donald Trump. 

“The church is blatantly and gleefully flouting tax-exemption regulations,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “The IRS must sanction it at once.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 36,000 members and several chapters across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Send this to a friend