Churches are enjoying a victory in a battle they never should have been forced to fight. On January 10, a U.S. district court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the exemption churches receive from filing annual returns with the IRS. In October 2018, an atheist group called Nonbelief Relief, Inc., filed a federal lawsuit in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit sought to unconstitutionally force churches to submit annual tax returns with sensitive financial disclosures to the IRS, with the penalty for failing to do so being loss of tax-exempt status.
This put churches in danger of being forced to provide private internal information to the government. Of course, the government doesn’t have the right to get involved in the inner workings of a church. And thankfully, the court’s ruling allows churches to continue to operate without threat of government interference.
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause prevents the government from intruding into the internal affairs of the church. And tax exemption is one way to prevent the government from unnecessarily interfering, which is why churches have always been exempt.
Unfortunately, this legal battle is not an isolated incident. Opponents of religious freedom have repeatedly threatened to revoke churches of their tax-exempt status. Freedom From Religion Foundation also challenged a provision in the federal tax code that exempts pastors’ housing allowances from taxation.
Fortunately, in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the allowance, and this tax exemption is still available to ministers across the country.
More recently, a former presidential candidate stated churches that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status. Churches do so much good for their communities. Revoking their tax-exempt status would deplete churches’ financial resources, distract them from ministry, and decrease the charitable services they provide to their communities.
Churches should be free to operate in accordance with their beliefs, and no pastor or church should have to face legal challenges like this alone. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom created ADF Church Alliance, a legal membership program for churches.
ADF Church Alliance acts as a hub for churches to gain access to experienced First Amendment lawyers who are available to answer religious liberty questions, conduct document reviews and provide advice, and even represent your church in court if necessary and appropriate – it’s virtually all-inclusive for religious freedom issues. Visit www.adfchurchalliance.org to learn more.
Article originally published by Alliance Defending Freedom.