Is 501c3 non profit status crippling freedom of speech in churches across the U.S.?

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I personally know many pastors of churches. My dad was even an associate pastor of a church. But I have a concern that has been growing lately. Can pastors be forbidden by the federal government to say certain things? You might imagine the Chinese government doing something like that, but what about in the United States? Aren’t we the land of the free?

I have been attending Calvary Chapel since 1997. Calvary Chapels, at least the Calvary that I attend is a 501c3 organization. Non-Profit, or 501c3 status is very important for the vast majority of churches in the United States. Churches keep track of the money that people donate to them and at the end of the year they provide the church members with a tax report so that the donors can claim a write-off on their taxes, thus receiving a portion of their tithe money back from the government. The way that churches keep track of tithing is by looking at the name on the check or the name on the envelope that contains the donation. But what about those who donate cash? The reality is that those cash donors cannot be kept track of.

The thing that is troubling to me is that if a pastor of a church endorses a particular political candidate running for office, the 501c3 status can be revoked by the government. Isn’t this the governments way buying silence or keeping pastors “under control” when it comes to endorsements? It’s a “catch 22” because if the church forsakes the non-profit status, then there is fear that the congregation will stop donating because they won’t be able to claim some of their donation back on their taxes. Someone might say, “Politics has no place in church. Pastors should only talk about Bible verses”. It’s not that I want pastors to talk about politics more, I just want them to be free to say whatever they want. Taking away freedom, even if it is only a small topic is not American.

My concern is that the church is becoming increasing irrelevant in our society.

One time I visited another church for a Saturday night service. The pastor said, “I don’t care if we lose our tax exempt status, I have to say this…” He went on to say something about the President of the United States. His statement made me wonder how the government had overreached into too much of our lives, even into our churches. Since it’s illegal for a pastor to say from the pulpit, “vote for Romney”, now the question comes to mind, what about youth pastors? worship leaders? Is it also illegal for them to say something like, “Vote for Obama” or “Vote for Romney”?

“A more certain way to attack religion is by favor, by the comforts of life, by the hope of wealth; not by what reminds one of it, but by what makes one forget it; not by what makes one indignant, but by what makes men lukewarm, when other passions act on our souls, and those which religion inspires are silent. In the matter of changing religion, State favors are stronger than penalties.”

The Spirit of the Laws, Baron de Montesquieu (1748)

Here are some links relating to my concerns regarding 501c3 status and the church: