Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Closed Shop Church

Dateline Chicago

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit today stripped the tax-exempt status from 1600 churches that participated in the "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" last November.  The pastors deliberately violated the provisions of the tax code commonly called “The Johnson Amendment” that prohibits tax exempt non-profit organizations operating under 501(c)(3) of the tax code from engaging in political activities.  The churches had sought to challenge the constitutionality of the regulations--specifically those provisions that forbid the churches from endorsing political candidates.

On November 3, the pastors of the 1600 churches deliberately endorsed political candidates in the upcoming election, thus setting the stage for a court challenge to the provision that the churches claimed illegally stripped religious organizations of their freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Today, the Circuit Court disagreed and removed the tax-exempt status of the offending churches.  Lawyers for the churches said there would be no appeal of the decision.  According to one of the lawyers, “The churches have decided to appeal to a higher authority.”

In a surprising move, the 1600 churches today dissolved their 501(c)(3) status and immediately re-filed applications with the Internal Revenue Service as members of  501(c)(5) organizations, i.e. as labor unions.

"In this way," said Reverend Bill Clark, the new shop steward of the First Baptist Union of Chicago, "We will be able to continue to our political activities and retain our tax-exempt status.  This union can promise better long-term benefits than any other union!"

According to one of the attorneys acting for the churches, the move could very well be profitable for the newly formed religious unions.  "Remember," said the lawyer.  "Illinois is a closed shop state.  Everyone working in the state will be required to be a member, and their union dues will be automatically deducted from their paychecks.”

Protestant churches are busily reorganizing under the The American Federation of Churches (AFC).  In Boston, the former Archbishop Michael O’Malley--now union president,--announced that the local dioceses would be reorganizing under The Congress of Coordinated Catholic Parishes (CCCP).   

When Reverend Bill Clark was asked if the former churches’ parishioners would support the move to unionization, the new shop steward replied, “Why not?  This state has always supported unions, and this union can promise better longer long-term benefits than any other.  Besides, you can be a member of this union even while you are unemployed.  Hell, you can belong to this union even after you’re dead!”

Union President (Archbishop) O’Malley explained, “After all, all of us work for the same Boss.  We just haven’t met Him yet.”

1 comment:

  1. What I'm reading is that churches are willing to jump into the same poisoned waters as unions, and are willing to take the chance on becoming pariahs along with them.

    NOT my opinion of unions, by the way - just what I'm seeing in the media these days. Unions are the new political scapegoats - not welcome in the public eye. I mean you hear it everywhere, how unions are just company-busting parasites, willing to suck business and tax dollars dry.

    And so churches are willing to hop into this morass of disinformation and disregard. I wonder about the end result. It's a clever move, and is certainly preferable to elevating the discussion to costly higher courts.

    I wonder at the motive of churches though too. So many people are identifying as "spiritual but not religious" as they exit the churches' spheres of influence. It makes me wonder how churches want to define themselves. Do they see themselves as bodies of people, having a political voice and influence? Is this drive to speak up on political issues an element of the frantic drive for relevance? (I say all this, while remembering that my own Catholic priest was speaking out vehemently on political issues even 40 years ago).