IRS Sermon Oversight • False Tax Exemption • Sexual Abuse Charges: News Roundup
This week’s headlines that affect churches and church leaders.
IRS Sermon Oversight • False Tax Exemption • Sexual Abuse Charges: News Roundup
Image: Stephen Radford / Unsplash

Survey Shows Protestant Pastors Oppose IRS Sermon Oversight. “In the 1950s, Congress banned charitable nonprofits—including churches—from endorsing candidates or otherwise intervening in elections. Any nonprofit that violated the ban could run afoul of the IRS. Churches risked losing their tax-exempt status if the preacher endorsed a candidate in a sermon. It’s time for that to change, most Protestant pastors say in a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. More than 7 in 10 say Congress should bar the IRS from punishing a church for sermon content. And 9 in 10 say their sermons should be free from government oversight. ‘Most pastors believe the pulpit should be off-limits to the government,’ said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research” (“Congress Should End IRS Oversight of Sermons, Say Protestant Pastors,” LifeWay Research).

To learn more about the IRS’s current regulations regarding politics and the church, check out this downloadable resource.

Church Faces Charges of False Tax Exemption Claims. “As part of [Clarkstown’s, New York’s] crackdown on illegal apartments, Deputy Town Attorney Leslie Kahn was perusing listings of apartment rentals when one caught her prosecutorial eye. Kahn, who prosecutes illegal housing for Clarkstown, investigated [a house] in New City. She said the results showed CSI Congregation of Hudson Valley Inc. had been getting a religious exemption from town, county and school property taxes but getting rents from tenants. The church's pastor had moved to Westchester County in April 2016, nullifying the tax exemption, she said. The church began profiting with rentals starting in July 2016, she said. . . . ‘I cross-checked the rental aid with the assessor's office,’ Kahn said, ‘to see if it qualified for the rental registry. We learned property had an exemption.’ She got a court subpoena for records, checking utility bills for 2016 and 2017. The church owes $15,540 in taxes. . . . If the church doesn’t agree to voluntarily repay the taxes, Hoehmann said the town would consider putting a lien on the property, as well as referring cases involving false representations to county prosecutors” (“New City church accused of claiming false tax exemption,” lohud.com).

The 2018 Church & Clergy Tax Guide offers comprehensive help understanding United States tax laws as they relate to pastors and churches.

South Carolina Church Sued over Charges of Sexual Abuse of a Minor. “The First Baptist Church of Columbia, as well as multiple employees, is named in a lawsuit where a minor alleges sexual abuse from a church group leader. The victim, 17, and his parents filed the suit on Tuesday. The defendants named include the church, Andrew McCraw, Wendell Estep, and Philip Turner. According to the documents, McCraw was a youth assistant mentor and small group leader at the church. Turner oversaw McCraw as the Student Minister of First Baptist Church. Wendell Estep was the Pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia but recently announced his retirement. According to the lawsuit, the victim, referred to as ‘Joel Doe,’ joined the church's Small Group Program when he was 11 years old, and Turner assigned Doe to McCraw's group. The suit goes on to say that, over the next few years, McCraw spent large amounts of time with Doe outside of the church, such as taking Doe to see movies and eat dinner; according to the documents, ‘during this lengthy period, Defendant McCraw gradually escalated his inappropriate and illegal activity.’ . . . [N]othing was done to prevent McCraw from continuing to spend time with children or further abuse. In addition, the church, Estep, and Turner did not alert the proper authorities. . . . The lawsuit says the First Baptist Church of Columbia ‘has been sued numerous times by children who have been sexually abused by Defendant First Baptist's employees, agents, and/or staff’” (“Columbia church named in lawsuit involving sex abuse of minor,” WACH Fox 57).

Child sexual abuse allegations remain a top reason churches go to court each year. Learn more about decreasing the likelihood of these tragic incidents with our newly revised Reducing the Risk training program.

Congregant’s Obscene Hand Gesture Counts as ‘Constitutionally Protected Expression.’ “In Freeman v. State . . . the Georgia Supreme Court held that a congregant could not constitutionally be convicted of disorderly conduct for standing up in the back of the church, raising his middle finger in the air and staring angrily at the pastor. Even though the pastor testified that he felt afraid for his safety at the time, the state Supreme Court held that defendant's raised middle finger constituted constitutionally protected expression” (“Obscene Gesture Directed At Pastor Cannot Support Disorderly Conduct Conviction,” Religion Clause).

For more court cases and rulings that could affect your church, see our interactive Recent Developments map.

We're always preparing the best and fastest ways to bring you the news in the context of expert advice. For more regular updates, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook.

Emily Lund is assistant editor for Church Law & Tax.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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