South Dakota Churches Falsely Threatened With Loss of Tax-Exempt Status

By Gudrun Schultz

SOUTH DAKOTA, June 14, 2006 ( – Efforts to muzzle South Dakota churches and non-profit groups on ballot questions for the fall election have led the IRS and liberal groups to threaten the withdrawal of tax exemption status.

Key ballot questions include repealing the abortion ban, defining marriage in the state constitution as only between a man and a woman, and gambling restrictions.

Rob Regier, executive director of the South Dakota Family Policy Council, told Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink it was “ludicrous” that churches would not be able to speak out on those issues. He said liberal groups in the state are making it clear they intend to watch carefully and report any church they think has crossed the line.

“Not that any churches here in South Dakota have,” Regier said, “but they’ve definitely received a message from the ultraliberal organizations that don’t want to see the churches involved.”

IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson announced in an early June news release that his agency was “stepping up efforts to enforce IRS rules against political campaign intervention.”

Churches cannot be penalized for speaking out on ballot issues, however, so long as they follow some rules. Attorney Jim Bopp, a recognized expert on lobbying activities for non-profit groups, told CitizenLink that churches absolutely do have the right to speak out on ballot questions, especially on the issues at stake in South Dakota, so long as they stay within the guidelines for non-profit lobby efforts.

“The question before the voters in South Dakota involves the adoption of a law prohibiting abortion,” Bopp said. “It is perfectly lawful for churches and nonprofits to be involved in that sort of election—that is, to advocate for or against the adoption of a law through a referendum of the people.”

The law only requires charity groups to limit the funds spent on such lobbying efforts to an “insubstantial” amount, from 5 to 20 percent of the group’s annual budget.

“We have to realize that there is a lot of hostility, particularly on the left, to the involvement of churches in our democratic process,” Bopp said, “so there’s a lot of running around filing complaints and trying to intimidate and harass churches. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Regier said the churches know they have a duty to proclaim the truth and clearly teach God’s word with regard to the issues at stake.

“The churches have the duty to speak without ambiguity about the covenant of marriage and why redefining that to allow men to marry men would be wrong,” he said. “The churches have a duty to speak about the sanctity of life. They should talk about those issues, and they should have the freedom to preach on whatever they want.”

See related LifeSiteNews coverage:

Abortion Ban Signed into Law by South Dakota Governor

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