(April 6) — Pastors and churches shouldn’t live in fear of being punished or penalized by the government. But in the ongoing discussion about whether church leaders can speak freely about electoral candidates from the pulpit, one argument frequently gets made: If a church wants to talk about the positions of electoral candidates, it can just give up the “gift” of tax-exempt status “bestowed” by the government.
That would be compelling — if it wasn’t so completely wrong.
That’s because churches receive a tax exemption as a matter of constitutional right, not legislative grace. The U.S. Supreme Court stated decades ago that the power to tax involves the power to destroy, and no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion exists than to tax it out of existence. Therefore, tax-exempt status for churches has existed independently of any special grant of privilege from the Internal Revenue Service.