Currently, churches usually receive tax exemptions based of off their specific religion and sect. If a specific sect is not already recognized, they are able to apply to become a recognized religion. This process gives the government the authority to determine which religions should and should not be recognized as 'true' religions in our country, a clear violation of the first amendment.
Response to Petition
By Joshua DuBois
Thank you for signing this petition regarding the tax-exempt status of houses of worship.
The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our Nation. Our Nation's Bill of Rights not only guarantees that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens the right to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all. Internal Revenue Code section 501(c), which addresses tax exempt organizations (including religious organizations), and the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations," reflect these principles.
In particular, the IRS Guide provides for an automatic exemption for churches and other houses of worship that meet the statutory requirements of section 501(c)(3). These requirements include, among others, that the organization be "organized and operated" exclusively for certain purposes (including religious and charitable purposes), that no part of net earnings inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder, and that the entity not involve itself in political campaigns.
Houses of worship, however, need not rely on the automatic exemption. As the IRS Guide observes, some houses of worship may consider it beneficial to obtain IRS recognition of their tax-exempt status: "such recognition assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits. For example, contributors to a church that has been recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions generally are tax-deductible." Accordingly, the IRS Guide states that, "[a]lthough there is no requirement to do so," houses of worship that seek recognition of their tax-exempt status may apply for a determination by the IRS.
The Administration recognizes that houses of worship--churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, and other institutions--are integral to their communities and often serve as community centers for charity and social service. And the Administration is committed to strengthening government interaction with faith-based organizations to the benefit of their communities, consistent with First Amendment protections.
When the President launched the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the White House noted:
As the priorities of this Office are carried out, it will be done in a way that upholds the Constitution--by ensuring that both existing programs and new proposals are consistent with American laws and values. The separation of church and state is a principle President Obama supports firmly--not only because it protects our democracy, but also because it protects the plurality of America's religious and civic life.
The President's Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships provided recommendations to the Administration on improving government partnerships with faith-based groups. Many of these recommendations have been acted upon, and all are under review by the Administration. You can find the Council's report here.
The President will continue to uphold the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state in supporting faith-based and secular organizations alike in their efforts to do the most good for individuals and families in need.
Joshua DuBois is Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships