Remove Tax-Exempt Status for Religious Institutions, Separate Church and State in Government

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Remove Tax-Exempt Status for Religious Institutions, Separate Church and State in Government

This petition had 43 supporters
Melissa Barlow started this petition to UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT and

Whereas the right to practice religion is a given freedom, this choice should not come with special inclusions or treatment from our government. Currently, any organization claiming to be a church can receive tax-exempt status, even without being approved by the IRS. In addition, Congress set forth strict rules which severely limit how and when the IRS can conduct an investigation into any "organization" CLAIMING to be a church. All private residents and all other non-profit organizations are subject to random and instigated IRS inquiries or audits. This shows that religious institutions are being granted special treatment by our government that all other citizens, businesses, and organizations are not.
The rules set forth in section 7611 do not allow random audits, maintain that a high-ranking IRS official must already have facts and supporting documentation provided to him suggesting a church is not in compliance BEFORE he can perform an inquiry into their finances. The church is then given two written notices over the course of no less than 3 months before the IRS can REQUEST to review the books. ALL private citizens, non-profit organizations, and buinesses only have the right to representation during an IRS audit/review, but do not get 3 months to collect, review, and change their books before the IRS is able to perform their investigation. It is not appropriate for religious organizations to have special treatment that allows them to not pay taxes for public services that they use or to evade the normal reviews and audits from the IRS intended to enforce tax law.
Removing special accommodations for religious institutions will not only help to re-establish the separation of church and state in government, but will also greatly relieve our local and national debts. As explained by the IRS website below, none of the earnings of a non-profit (including churches) should inure to any "shareholder" or individual - this simply is not the case with many of the religious institutions in the US. It also makes clear that the actions of the organization must not be to influence legislation (lobby) as a substantial part of its activities.
Furthermore, it is not appropriate for leaders and organizers of such institutions to have unclaimed income, housing, vehicles, etc. masked within their tax-exempt institution as gifts or donations. Nor is it appropriate to mask the creation of internal profitable businesses as tax-exempt claiming that they are rooted in the faith-based organization.
There are millions of dollars of undocumented, unclaimed, untaxed church income each year. The figures can not be accurately calculated by the IRS since most churches do not file the "voluntary" paperwork. Preachers are living in million dollar "church funded" homes, driving "church gifted" Jaguars, and wearing "church donated" rolexes. Whilst enjoying a lavish lifestyle, many are not paying the myriad of taxes that the rest of US citizens are required to pay because church-based money is virtually untouchable, untraceable, and unaccountable. What becomes of the rest of the unaccounted cash millions that filter through the tithing trays? A local church, said to be the largest growing church in America, recently spent $1.2M on Harley Davidson motorcycles as gifts to the top 11 leaders. It is also claimed that they have used over $1M bailing out church members from jail. This is not a non-profit organization that does not "inure any private shareholder of individual." This in only one local example of people taking advantage of these unconstitutional laws, there are many all over the nation.
The current laws allow for open money-laundering and tax evasion without the likelihood for consequence or penalty. The government has no system in place requiring a church to be "approved" before claiming tax-exemption. They have no safeguards to determine how many untaxed dollars are passing though the church doors and officials hands. Once a group claims to be a church, the IRS has no enforcement to determine if any illegal activity occurs unless the evidence is gathered and handed to them first. Although it states that all non-profits must not benefit any individuals, and must not spend a significant amount of time or money lobbying lawmakers, there is currently NO WAY TO DETERMINE, REGULATE, OR PUNISH these illegal behaviors.
Please sign the attached petition to hold religious institutions accountable, and to the same standards as all other for-profit organizations, non-profit organizations, businesses and individuals. Choosing to practice a religion, although a given freedom, should not come with additional rights and privileges not granted to all other citizens and groups.

http://www.irs.gov/
"To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates." "Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct."

"Congress has imposed special limitations, found in section 7611 of the Internal Revenue Code, on how and when the IRS may conduct civil tax inquiries and examinations of churches. The IRS may only initiate a church tax inquiry if a high-ranking IRS official, reasonably believes, based on a written statement of the facts and circumstances, that the organization: (a) may not qualify for the exemption; or (b) may not be paying tax on unrelated business or other taxable activity."

Restrictions on church inquiries and examinations apply only to churches (including organizations claiming to be churches if such status has not been recognized by the IRS) and conventions or associations of churches. They do not apply to related persons or organizations. Thus, for example, the rules do not apply to schools that, although operated by a church, are organized as separate legal entities. Similarly, the rules do not apply to integrated auxiliaries of a church.
Restrictions on church inquiries and examinations do not apply to all church inquiries by the IRS.  See Situations in which church audit procedures do not apply for more information.
The procedures of Internal Revenue Code section 7611 will be used in initiating and conducting any inquiry or examination into whether an excess benefit transaction (as that term is used in Code section 4958) has incurred between a church and an insider."
The following is the sequence of the church audit process.
1. If the reasonable belief  requirement is met, the IRS must begin an inquiry by providing a church with written notice containing an explanation of its concerns.
2. The church is allowed a reasonable period in which to respond by furnishing a written explanation to alleviate IRS concerns.
3. If the church fails to respond within the required time, or if its response is not sufficient to alleviate IRS concerns, the IRS may, generally within 90 days, issue a second notice, informing the church of the need to examine its books and records.
4. After issuance of a second notice, but before commencement of an examination of its books and records, the church may request a conference with an IRS official to discuss IRS concerns. The second notice will contain a copy of all documents collected or prepared by the IRS for use in the examination and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, as supplemented by IRC section 6103 relating to disclosure and confidentiality of tax return information.
5. Generally, examination of a church’s books and records must be completed within two years from the date of the second notice from the IRS.
If at any time during the inquiry process the church supplies information sufficient to alleviate the concerns of the IRS, the matter will be closed without examination of the church’s books and records. There are additional safeguards for the protection of churches under Internal Revenue Code section 7611. For example, the IRS cannot begin a subsequent examination of a church for a five-year period unless the previous examination resulted in a revocation, notice of deficiency of assessment, or a request for a significant change in church operations, including a significant change in accounting practices.

For more information and to further self-education into this legal issue, visit :
http://www.irs.gov/charities/churches/index.html

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