We might think we're safe from this religious injection into politics, because of the Constitution's separation of church and state. But there's a loophole: while the government cannot favor one religious tradition over another, there is no legal structure that prevents religious groups from wielding political might. (Some Republicans have, at various times in the past decade, introduced federal legislation that would actually protect the ability of churches to spend on political matters. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten anywhere — yet.)
Religious organizations, at present, get automatic certification from the IRS as nonprofit groups. There are some rules limiting how much political activity nonprofits can have, but churches — most notably the Catholic Church — don't pay those rules much mind, preferring instead to wield significant political muscle both in person and with money.
Particularly in response to the religious war waged on same-sex marriage, there have been a number of public campaigns to revoke nonprofit status for churches that break the rules.
Some — including the Phoenix, in a 2009 editorial — have argued that religious groups should have to apply for tax-exempt status (rather than automatically receiving it), and that their lobbying efforts and related spending should be made public.
But perhaps the best measure is with a relatively simple, possibly administrative change. At present, IRS rules limit only religious groups' efforts in support or opposition to "any candidate for elective public office." But same-sex marriage is not a candidate; it is a referendum question. If the IRS prohibition were expanded to ban church efforts regarding, say "any question put to the voting public on a ballot," the stakes would be raised, and the enforcement much clearer.
: News Features
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