Churches want to turn American democracy upside down by advocating for representation without taxation.

To meet the requirements of tax-exempt nonprofits, churches and secular 501(c)(3) charitable organizations “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate at all in campaign activity for or against political candidates.” Yet, according to the Freedom Forum Institute, it is common for religious organizations, primarily Christian, to endorse candidates and influence legislation by continuously lobbying Congress.

Christian lobbying of Congress has given us “In God We Trust” stamped on U.S. coins since 1864. In 1954 the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance, thanks to extensive lobbying by Billy Graham, a very conservative Christian leader. In 1956, thanks again to Graham’s evangelical lobbying, Congress added “In God We Trust” to our paper money, and the phrase became the national motto.

Because of conservative Christian lobbying, every session of the House and Senate is subjected to a prayer, predominately Christian. The Congressional Prayer Caucus, a conservative Christian group and an official caucus of the U.S. Congress, meets each week Congress is in session to pray that the bills they sponsor become law. The Senate Prayer Breakfast meets weekly, and the National Prayer Breakfast meets annually. The Christian Nationalist agenda is represented in our secular laws, yet churches pay no taxes. In effect, Christians have a PAC funded by the taxpayer.

What does it cost the American taxpayer to fund the Christian PAC? In 2012 both the Center for Inquiry and the authors of “How Secular Humanists (and Everyone Else) Subsidize Religion in the U.S.” calculated the U.S. lost over $71 billion in tax revenue by not taxing religious institutions. The authors, Ryan T. Cragun, Stephanie Yeager and Desmond Vega, also found the parsonage exemption cost the nation over $1.2 billion.

In 2018, a University of Tampa study found the U.S. budget was denied $83.5 billion in lost tax revenue from tax-exempt religious organizations. That’s an increase of over $12 billion in six years or a rate of over $2 billion per year. By 2024, six years after the 2018 estimate, religion will have added over $445 billion to the national debt.

Cragun, Yeager and Vega concluded what religion has to offer is nothing more than spiritual entertainment. Susan Jacoby, a journalist and author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism,” writes, “The question is not whether the United States is a Christian nation. Instead, it is whether church authorities adhering to a deeply conservative brand of Christianity get to use taxpayer money to further their parochial (and political) agenda.”

Those advocating tax-exempt churches should be allowed to have a state-funded PAC demand special privileges not accorded secular PACs. They must raise funds to finance their political campaigns and are mandated by the IRS to pay taxes. Moreover, according to a 2001 Gallup/Interfaith Alliance Foundation poll, most clergies (77%) do not support letting clergy campaign from the pulpit.

Fortunately, the nation began to return to its secular roots in 1962 when public school-sponsored prayer was ruled unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it was not the Atheist Madeline Murray-O’Hare who sounded the alarm, as is commonly thought. Instead, a group of New York parents led by Steven Engel, a lawyer and founding member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, brought suit. Engel correctly argued school-sponsored prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In 1964 and 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act into law, respectively. Yet, both pieces of legislation were vehemently opposed by Southern Baptists then and eviscerated by today’s conservative Christians.

The Washington, D.C., district court ruled in Branch Ministries v. Rossotti (2000) that the IRS could revoke the Branch Ministries tax-exempt status for taking out a full-page ad in the Washington Times urging Christians not to vote for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. The church appealed the decision on religious privilege and freedom of speech grounds, but lost.

That was then, but this is now. If this case went to the Supreme Court today, the church most assuredly would win.

So what do you think the nation should be spending on spiritual entertainment and partisan lobbying of Congress? We spend about $90 billion a year now, with an annual increase of $2 billion.

Given the court’s willingness to give religion almost unlimited privilege, that yearly rate will likely increase dramatically.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected] and https://ffrfmaine.org.


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