Thursday, October 23, 2014
Houston Churches At Odds With City Government Over Equal Rights Ordinance: What Might The IRS Have To Say About It?
The City of Houston, Texas has found itself in the midst of a growing controversy. The controversy stems from the passage of a city ordinance aimed at protecting the rights of LGBT residents. In response to the ordinance, several Houston pastors spoke out against the ordnance and the city’s mayor—a member of the LGBT community herself. The pastors of these churches circulated petitions among their respective congregations in an effort to get a referendum of the ordinance on the ballot. The city attorney, however, held that the petition was invalid, and the pastors filed suit.
In connection with the lawsuit, the city attorney issued subpoenas to obtain the text of sermons from the plaintiff church pastors. The purported purpose of the subpoenas was to determine how the church congregations were instructed regarding the petition. You can read more on the story HERE
How might the IRS view the churches’ activism? As a 501(c)(3), churches are limited in the type and amount of lobbying they may engage in. What might the subpoenas reveal about churches dealings regarding the equal rights ordinance? Could the content of the pastors’ sermons be construed as endorsing or opposing a political candidate—an activity that is absolutely prohibited under 501(c)(3)?