Finance and Freedom: Freedom of Religion

by Rocket Finance

The single greatest catalyst for the founding of this country was the freedom of religion. Many of our history books downplay this fact, but it was no mistake that the first article in the Bill of Rights dealt with this issue. The idea of “soul liberty” was a new one on the world stage. The European countries all had state religions that were subsidized – and still are subsidized to great extent – by the tax dollars from the citizens of those countries.

The first blow to restrict the freedom of religion took place in 1954. Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed an amendment that made it illegal for a church (or an non-profit organization) to engage in campaign activity. They threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of an organization who violated this decree. Naturally, most churches and charitable groups, not wanting to jeopardize their donor base, fell into line.

This law is unconstitutional. The Founding Fathers believed that political speech should always be protected by law regardless of one’s occupation or involvement with any particular group. What if Congress decided that unions could no longer participate in political campaigns? What about workers who are employed by the government, should their voice be restricted, since they are employed by taxpayers? Why can’t the president of the Salvation Army or any other charitable group endorse or oppose politicians whose policies might hinder or promote their work?

In this instance, Congress used our finances to restrict political activity and speech. Remember that one of the greatest threats to an over-reaching government is a well-informed population. This 1954 law has helped to silence many leaders who might seek to communicate political thoughts on behalf of their constituency. Why should the leader of a non-profit have to be silent? Pastors and church leaders pay taxes too.

It is true that our benevolent government does not have to allow us a tax deduction for gifts made to non-profit groups. We are grateful for the deduction, but by dangling this carrot in front of the tax-payer, the federal government has silenced a potential critic.

A tax deduction has allowed our government to manipulate us into giving up a little of our freedom of religion.

  1. 11 Responses to “Finance and Freedom: Freedom of Religion”

  2. By Becky@FamilyandFinances on Nov 21, 2008 | Reply

    I’m really enjoying this series – keep it up!

    I really hate how the ACLU and others like them have slowly, quietly changed the public to think “Freedom FROM Religion” instead of “Freedom OF Religion”. So irritating!!!

  3. By rocketc on Nov 22, 2008 | Reply

    and unconstitutional. It is like boiling the proverbial frog. Everything has happened so slowly that it is difficult to oppose. We are do thankful for the tax deduction that we forget that our freedom of speech has been limited.

  4. By plonkee on Nov 25, 2008 | Reply

    You cannot have freedom of religion without being free to choose no religion at all.

    I have no particular interest in how Americans choose to practice their separation of church and state or freedom of religion. But, if it’s that important to you, you could forego the tax deduction and/or campaign for its removal.

  5. By rocketc on Nov 25, 2008 | Reply

    In the U.S., you are certainly free to choose no religion. I would have it no other way.

    You are right about refusing a tax deduction, my point is not that the deduction is right or wrong . . . the injustice lies in the limiting of the freedom of speech. Our government has discovered an effective means of muzzling the opposition.

  6. By plonkee on Nov 25, 2008 | Reply

    Whether or not that was the intent I don’t know, but in practice many/most church people seem to have strong political opinions. If they intended to muzzle dissenters I’m not sure they’ve succeeded.

  7. By Deamiter on Dec 2, 2008 | Reply

    I quite disagree that our constitutional rights have somehow been violated! The government is simply offering a widely supported tax break to gifts that go to religious organizations. The requirement that the organizations do not engage in campaign activity is to avoid giving tax breaks to ‘religious’ organizations created solely to bypass campaign finance laws.

    Churches are in no way compelled to take the tax-exempt status, nor are members prevented from engaging in campaign activities. Therefore there is no loss of freedom of speech.

    One might argue that all campaign finance laws should be removed which would make this particular law pointless. Until and unless that happens, it just doesn’t make sense to allow churches to launder money for political campaigns and bypass the laws that try to limit the power of ultra-rich people and corporations to fix elections by pouring in even more money that they do now.

  8. By My Journey on Feb 5, 2009 | Reply


    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state”

    Thomas Jefferson 1802

    Can’t it be argued that giving a tax preferred status to only CERTAIN religions (i.e. The IRS would have a problem with The Church of My Journey to Millions) orginiziations is actually supporting a religion?

    Before you attack me, I am actually NOT a liberal at all, and in fact, got into many a fights in my Constitutional Law Class during Law school with people about how conservative I really am. I just don’t think this issue is black and white.

    I am far from a Con Law Professor, but there is no speech that is “always be protected by law” but rather varying degrees of protection. Yes, Political is VERY VERY HIGH on the list of protected speech, but is BY NO MEANS always protected.

    I am not sure where it is, but there is some sort of line where you should study con law before proclaiming it.

  9. By rocketc on Feb 5, 2009 | Reply

    Theoretically, I believe that the government should give no tax breaks to religious organizations or really any deductions at all. However, corollary to that belief is that our taxes should be very low, not progressive, and that payroll taxes are illegal . . .

    My point is this: just because the government decided to give tax breaks to non-profits, it does not give government the right to then restrict their freedom of speech. And I define the freedom of speech relatively narrowly as most of the founding fathers: the right to free speech is the right to free political speech.

    We have too many deductions and targeted tax breaks in our tax code . . . most are not constitutional . . . but that is a whole ‘nother topic.

  10. By My Journey on Feb 5, 2009 | Reply

    Believe it or not, I actually agree with underlying wants, mainly, (a) lower taxes and (b) free speech (which I believe we currently have especially when compared to most other countries.

    I think my issue, is you using the word unconstitutional. The statement:

    “just because the government decided to give tax breaks to non-profits, it does not give government the right to then restrict their freedom of speech.”

    IS WRONG UNDER CURRENT LAW – Unless, what you are trying to do is portray YOUR OPINION. If that is the case, so be it, but you should say it clearer.

    If a church wants to promote a candidate then all they have to do is pay their taxes?

  11. By rocketc on Feb 5, 2009 | Reply

    I believe, constitutionally speaking, that the framers would view granting “tax-exempt status” to churches to be as unconstitutional as restricting the rights of those churches to speak out in support of a particular political candidate. They are both violations of the constitution, strictly speaking.

    Your last question is interesting.

    I think my overall point, and maybe I did not state this well enough, is that tax-exempt status sounds like a good thing and many people who support non-profits welcomed that aspect of tax law. In gaining a monetary benefit, they and we as Americans allowed the government to restrict our freedom of speech. It is incremental, but this freedom is being slowly abridged. There are many politicians who benefit from the polical silence of non-profits. Futhermore, the non-profit status has even been used in court to threaten certain institutions who hold views that the political estabishment finds threatening.

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