Bill requires churches to certify no political activity

Sponsor explains reasons for legislation

By Guy Page

A growing number of churches are engaging in political activity in violation of their tax-exempt status, the sponsor of a bill requiring churches and non-profits to certify they have not conducted lobbying or political activity explained to the House Ways and Means Committee Friday, January 27. 

Rep. Laura Sibilia (I-Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton,  and Wardsboro) and Rep. Kelly Pajala (I-Londonderry) sponsored H 113, An act relating to the public, pious, or charitable uses property tax exemption. The bill was referred to Ways & Means, which oversees all tax-related legislation. 

Windham and Bennington counties, where Pajala and Sibilia serve, are listed as among the 10 least church counties in the United States, according to a 2020 Pew Research report.

In addition to speaking to Ways and Means directly, Sibilia provided written testimony, which appears below.

Written testimony by Rep. Laura Sibilia about H113

This bill does two things:

1. Clarifies that churches and other public, pious, or charitable organizations are not eligible for the State property tax exemption if those organizations engage in any lobbying or other political activity on their property.

2. Churches and nonprofits will also be required under this bill to certify annually to the Vermont Department of Taxes that the organization does not conduct any lobbying or political activity on the property that would disqualify the organization from the exemption.

Why is this necessary?

This past election I began to notice and gather multiple advertisements, letters to the editor and social media posts being deployed to promote partisan candidate gatherings at churches throughout Vermont. Small churches and large churches. Churches in Chittenden County, churches in the Kingdom and Southern Vermont, churches in our largest towns and churches in rural and small town Vermont.

These promotions all had one thing in common – they were promoting partisan or single candidate events. That is not necessarily a problem, UNLESS the church has sought and received state property tax exemption as a public, pious, or charitable non profit Organization.

We need to remember that all Vermonters, of all political persuasions are picking up the property tax payments being exempted by these community service organizations. There is no room for partisan political activity to be supported in these establishments if they are asking all Vermonters to support their organization.

Exempt public, pious, or charitable non profit organizations can also participate in some political activites as outlined in in IRS regulations:

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”

My sense is that most Vermonters are not deliberately flouting the law and the requirements for the public, pious or charitable organizations, but that they are simply unaware of these federal requirements. Putting these requirements into state law and requiring those benefiting from the tax exemption that all other Vermont property taxpayers are paying for to certify their activities are compliant will help us honor the purpose of this tax exemption.

Categories: Legislation

23 replies »

  1. What about ALL the many, many non-profit organizations in Vermont with political agendas? Will they be held accountable for the same activities?

    • We can assume that all the usual democrat double-standards would apply…because if not for double-standards, the democrat party would have no standards at all…

  2. So does this mean UVM is under fire…as it should be…because Leahy and Bernie did everything they could/can politically to gain them our tax dollars…and then they named a research boat for Leahy’s wife…and a Lake Champlain basin for Leahy… I’m sure Bernie has some name rights too. There is no way they can take our local ability to meet under our Constitutional rights without UVM taking a fall and paying the bill for our meeting places…

  3. The requirement under law that a most non-profits must refrain from political activity has long gone mostly unenforced. It is nebulous and open to broad interpretation. However, at this time the excesses go beyond question.

  4. What about public schools and the flags waving in front of them (among the other dozens of political agendas pushed in the schools – climate change posters made by the kids, etc.)?

  5. Sorry idiot legislators – Another bill which will not hold up in court. Ya mean, Catholic priests cannot teach that abortion is an egregious sin? Ya mean that priests can no longer state that not committing murder is one of the Ten Commandments & that abortion is OBVIOUSLY, BIOLOGICALLY, & SCIENTIFICALLY murder? Try it, losers.

    Sorry Guy, I’m having a really difficult time, as a native New Yawka particularly, not going New York on these freaks which might then include whomping them with a plethora of “intolerant” type language that each & every one of these degenerates justifiably deserve.

  6. By the way Vermont legislators: Do ATTEMPT, as but one suggestion, to take on the entire Catholic Church, PLEASE! For as the followers of Christ are “…as the sand that is by the seashore…and thy seeds shall possess the gates of their enemies”.

    Ya’ll are too funny. Bodacious and brazen, you are but weak-minded and craven.

  7. Adherents of Secular Humanism, Socialism, communism, progressivism and athiesm all conduct themselves in a manner that make the most fervent Pentacostle blush. It is way past time to legally declare all of the collectivists members of organized religion.

  8. Stu Lindberg nailed it. All groups he mentions belong to a religion proselytized with more fervor and determination to conquer than the most militant Crusaders of earlier centuries. Their motto: No mercy for heretics.

  9. The strongest case against the bill for churches could be that it restricts their right to free speech and religion. Churches may argue that they should be allowed to express their political views and participate in political activities, just like any other citizen or organization, and that the bill unfairly singles them out.

    Additionally, the bill could be seen as an infringement on the autonomy of churches and religious organizations, who may argue that they should be able to make their own decisions regarding their political involvement and that the government should not be involved in regulating their activities.

    Churches may also argue that the bill is too vague in its definition of “political activity” and that it could lead to unintended consequences, such as limiting their ability to educate their members about important political issues or to advocate for their beliefs.

    Finally, churches could argue that the requirement to certify annually to the Vermont Department of Taxes is burdensome and that it places an undue administrative burden on them.

    • Chapter 1 Article 3 of the Vermont Constitution spells it out, clearly:
      ” and that no authority can, or ought to be vested in, or assumed by, any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control the rights of conscience, in the free exercise of religious worship.” A broad statement, to insure the freedoms of religion, whatever the religion may be. Out founders wrote specifically of christians, but thru time, this articles interpreted to protect all religions- even satanism from governments heavy hand.
      sibilia and pajala seek thru H.113 to remove these freedoms from religious organizations, thereby restricting free speech, as guaranteed in Article 13.
      The increased brazenness of this batch of legislators is repugnant. Seemingly ignorant of the oath of office these people took- and oblivious to Ch.1 Art. 6 & 7,
      all Vermont residents are being assaulted by the very government they allegedly elected to represent them.
      For the giddy liberal, seeing this bill as a way to stifle christian morals and values, be forewarned- things have a way of changing direction, rather quickly.

      • this bill won’t pass but if it did, you can be sure the churches wouldn’t go along with it anyway. They are crooks and have always been:

        ‘The statewide Diocese of Burlington’s latest public financial statement lists $16 million in unrestricted net assets.

        But that figure doesn’t include an estimated $500 million in property that church leaders stashed into trusts more than a decade ago to protect those assets from priest abuse settlements.’

    • Yes Tom ……..
      That will be if those who say they are Christians, will come out from the comfy four walls of their churches, their personal comfort zones and have the courage to STAND.

      Those who are called to speak the Truth, Occupy, live the Truth and Be Salt and Light are mostly absent in what they call “political.”

      If the state comes after their precious “non-tax status,” perhaps they will wake up and participate?

  10. Really ? It’s already the law. So now they would need to certify that they haven’t broken the law and could be punished twice – once for political activity and once for the erroneous certification. Think how that concept could be expanded to other aspects of our lives.

  11. The church my family has been member to for over 200 years has largely become defunct since holding democrat candidate forums. A couple, progressive church leaders have done what a civil war, two world wars, Spanish influenza, great depression, and a fire could not destroy. Learning the hard way its greatest benefactors will not tolerate their value system being compromised.

  12. In progressive/hypocritical Vermont, advocating for the lives of the innocent pre-born would be considered “political activity”. All three of the Abrahamic Religions have written doctrines denouncing the practice of homosexuality. In progressive/hypocritical Vermont, Christian denominations are considered hatemongers if they promote this intolerance, whereas Islamic persons would be just be practicing “cultural adherence”. These are the progressive double-standards that would come into play if the legislature is allowed to continue with their culture war by pushing this nonsense. Requiring a Church to “certify” some element of their doctrine is apolitical is putting them in a trap. Why dont we just continue with the honor system, like we do with most of our welfare handout program eligibilities?

  13. Guess the Libby Churches in this dead state won’t be able to host trans/BLM rallies anymore.

    Oh the horror!

    • Again, as per the FBI (you adore the FBI, right?) and the DOJ, adults who sexually abuse children (or as your beloved democrat progressives like to describe them as: “minor-attracted persons) are everywhere – from the thousands discovered who abused young boys within the Boy Scouts of America to the thousands of teachers who had/have “relationships” with under-aged students over the many decades.

      And the most prolific sexual abusers? Why, those are identified as: FAMILY MEMBERS, aka: relatives of the abused children. Mostly male compared to female offenders – predators are sadly found everywhere which is why your assertion and loathing of religious is erroneous. But it is an assertion that the left loves to disseminate…..much like sowing seed, so to speak.

      Within your theory which castigates all for the sins of a small minority, all males ought be scrutinized, as well as all males who are specifically members of a family. Such is the problem with sweeping generalizations.

      When all else is destroyed because of extremism: this nation, innocence & childhood, the healthcare system, etc. etc., the church will remain. It always has, FreedomFounders1776 – All empires fall. Nation’s dissolve.

      God can never be destroyed; He remains. Within His church.

      God casts no one into Hell. Humans do a fine job themselves. Be careful legislators. I’ve heard eternity is a long haul.

      • First off, I don’t believe a thing coming out of the FBI. Second, I am casting judgement on the population entrusted with our darkest secrets, and who use that position of authority to get their kicks from little kids. It’s naive of you to think that the abuse has stopped as well. I for one will not defend an institution, no matter how holy, for knowing these actions were going on, doing nothing, and then hiding their money in over 100 land trusts throughout VT to shield themselves from justice.

    • Abuse will NEVER stop. Human nature is more than capable of evil, always has been, always shall be. Evil exists & persists EVERYWHERE. It infiltrates hospitals where people who swore to do no harm now commit medical murder. It infiltrates the B.S.A., it infiltrates churches, schools, public streets, and yes, it infiltrates families! That is the reality of humankind: Each holds the ability to proffer great good or to commit great evil. This, since the very beginning of time. To condemn the many because of the few is foolish and destructive for all including & especially children whom you purport to “protect”. Yes, all of you who possess no sin – including all those within Montpelier of all places – take away the TRILLIONS of dollars donated by the organization of Catholic Charities alone which has fed, clothed, educated, provided medicine around the globe in order to “punish” the less than 1% involved in this infiltration of evil. Throw that baby out with the bath water – or with the medical “waste” as the case may be – to show them! Destructive, soul-annihilating, sanctimonious, and above all fruitless.

      • Kathleen, good points and confirmation that critical thinking is dead. When you find one rotten apple or two, you do not through the whole bag out because of the good that’s left to eat. There are none so blind as those who can not see. While I am not very religious, I benefit from those who are. Without the teachings of right and wrong what type of real chaos would ensue? Religions are not going anywhere, but where there is wrong it needs to be squashed, in any organization or government.

  14. So let me see if I understand. We empower elected representatives to take our money and then they want to use that power over our money to control our behavior…some more. Is that about it? Is this what’s become of our “self governing” community?

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