Church pushes back against political speech bill, organizes e-mail campaign

By Guy Page

A Williston church is pushing back against a bill requiring churches to certify they have not been politically active in order to maintain their tax-exempt status.

Rev. Todd Callahan, pastor of Ignite Church, says 400 emails already have been sent to lawmakers, using an online link created by the church’s attorney. 

H113, introduced Jan. 26 by two southern Vermont lawmakers (both political Independents) and now in the House Ways & Means committee, would “clarify 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.”

The bill, however, does more than just re-state existing tax law. It adds a responsibility of annually reporting compliance. The lead sponsor said she introduced the bill after noticing that many more churches seemed to be involved in political and lobbying activity this past election year, VDC reported February 6

In the language of the bill, churches and other non-profits would be required 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.

“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,” co-sponsor Rep. Laura Sibilia testified before Ways & Means last month.

Callahan, who declined to stop meeting in-person during the pandemic despite being under pressure from the State of Vermont, took action when he learned about H113. 

“I wanted to share a link with you that our constitutional attorney created for us and as of Monday almost 400 emails had been sent from our church to the Vermont legislators pushing back on this bill,” Callahan wrote to VDC February 7. “As of now the bill is at “no vote” status, however it can come back up at another time, so we need to make sure our voices are heard.  

Once the link is selected, individuals can put in their personal email and once they click on “Click Here to Create an Email” it will auto-populate every legislator’s email, Callahan said. “All they have to do is hit ‘send’.”

Authors can write whatever they want in the body of the email. However, a suggested email makes the following points:

  • the United States Supreme Court has long supported charitable organizations’ rights, including those of churches, to engage in a certain degree of political speech, as reflected in the IRS code.  H.113 violates that standard by penalizing any and all political speech of these charitable organizations. 
  • If passed, H.113 will violate the rights of certain non-profits and possibly cost the taxpayers of Vermont millions in legal fees only to see this law overturned. 

Categories: Legislation

9 replies »

  1. The Progressives in this state have it figured it out…..” The only voice you will hear is mine.”

    Get used to it. The voting population has positioned them in power in the state house and they will continue down the path of their mission to control every corner of your life.

    Buckle up partner, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

  2. First of all, this bill is typical in its poor construction and wording. It’s reflective of the ignorance of its sponsors. It has no teeth. No defined due process or enforcement provisions other than IRS practices. And we know how unbiased the IRS is. Just ask former IRS Commissioner, Lois Learner, who took the 5th when questioned by the U.S. Congress for her biased treatment of conservative PACs.

    And if the H.113 relies solely on IRS Code 501(c)(3) as its legal basis, will VT Digger, for example, also certify that it doesn’t indulge in “… 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, …”? I’d love to see that hearing.

    Keep in mind that the State of Vermont has more 501(c)(3) organizations per capita than any state in the U.S.. So go ahead legislators… make my day. Every 501(c)(3) should be held accountable.

  3. Interestingly, this bill seeks to remove property tax exemption from “public, pious or charitable uses” specifically. H.113 does not apply to:”real and personal property of an organization when the property is used primarily for health or recreational purposes, unless the town or municipality in which the property is located so votes at any regular or special meeting duly warned therefor, and except for the following types of property:”
    For those that saw this legislation as an impediment to say, Planned Parenthood, look at how the bill was written. It appears that any “pious” organization could loose the property tax exemption, but … for some obscure reason… not a skating rink.
    Skating Rink? Somewhere in Vermont there is a skating rink with a benefactor in the
    Vermont House.

  4. So, as I see it this is a positive. This means that the state or other NGOs cannot offer money or stuff so that they have my GOD worshipping church put up satanic LGBTQMOUSE flags or BLM (BLM is not black lives matter its it’s BLAME as in BLAME BLACKS) black people signs and that they cannot put one up on their own to virtue signal the state that they are “one of them”, seems like a good idea.

    But no this is to again stifle free speech by a commie progressive ( I repeat myself). Easiest way to fix this is to stop asking the state to forgive taxes for GOD’s house or to even threaten to place them on them if they DO NOT COMPLY. Most Churches make more than enough free money from tax paying people that the threats of “we will make you pay taxes” is, as threats, go pretty weak. Just pay them and say what you want. As my wife says ( who is a ordained minister) this is again an attempt to put the state before GOD.

  5. This is legislative retribution, Ignite host speakers the majority party doesn’t agree with, hence this assault on a faith based entity via legislation.

    It’s the same MO Rutland (D) William Notte did when Rutland High school board reinstated their RAIDER name. The next day legislation drafted to rid Vermont of these “offensive” mascots and bam, done. Gov Scott even signed the garbage. No more Raiders. They’d like to drive Ignite out of biz too.

    Welcome to your new legislature.

    • This bill is actually a thinly veiled act of retribution to those churches that opposed such problematic issues, such as Proposal 5. Opposition to oppressive issues and gravely unjust issues is not political activity. It is exercise of the first amendment to the constitution, both in terms of free speech and freedom of religion. It is clear that the democratic progressive groupthink in the legislature really will not brook non-conforming ideas.

  6. ““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,” co-sponsor Rep. Laura Sibilia testified before Ways & Means last month.””

    Hurray, does this mean our public schools will now return to teaching the 3 Rs? Or does it mean l will no longer be responsible for the school portion of my property tax? Valid questions, inquiring minds want to know!!!

  7. First let us say what need be said: The sponsors of such a Bill despise or even desire to silence all Christian thought, speech and public exhibitions of what we know to be God’s Grace and Mercy on all mankind. And if Orthodox Jewish leaders speak against them they also will be despised and abused. They should be so honest…

    To hem us in with the hedges of “attestations” of good behavior and impose the threat of financial ruin for most smaller churches is not just vindictive and also unconstitutional (See Articles 3 & 18 at https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/constitution-of-the-state-of-vermont/ ).
    Holding us as hostages and imposing conditions of release for promises of good behavior seems at first almost rational; but in Press Freedom the SCOTUS calls this “Prior Restraint” and strictly prohibits the tactic, especially by government agents…

    Or if they prefer a contemporary of Jefferson who many incorrectly will say was hostile to Christianity, consider what he and Jefferson chose to assert during the Virginia debates on Ratification of the Bill of Rights. Founder and 4th U.S. President James Madison spoke well:

    “Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.”

    May God have Mercy on their souls. Screwtape is still at his toils.

  8. Should this bill come to fruition, our lawmakers better make sure that this applies to other property-exempt organizations – such as Planned Parenthood!
    Liberal legislators appear “masterful” at creating new bills that conform to their own political agendas.