Why is the Westboro Baptist Church Tax-Exempt?

If you are reading this article, you've probably already heard of the Westboro Baptist Church.  This hate group based out of Topeka, Kansas, has gained attention by protesting at the funerals of American soldiers as well as victims of horrific crimes.  they use negative publicity to spread their campaign of hate directed toward any group that they deem inferior.  These groups include Homosexuals, Jewish and Islamic practitioners, Priests, and a number of others. 

While their ideals are disgusting, it's not legal to punish a group for their beliefs (no matter how appalling).  But this story doesn't end at ideals.  Westboro Baptist Church has chosen to use a campaign of offensive and abusive language to stir up publicity for their organization.  They picket the funerals of lost soldiers and victims of senseless violence to attempt to capitalize on the publicity surrounding such events.  The leaders of this church understand that by convincing their followers to be flamboyantly abusive and hateful, the media will provide them with a platform to push their agenda and seek out new followers.

The famous hacker group Anonymous has decided to take a stand against the Westboro Baptist Church as a result of their publicly voiced plan to attend the funerals of the children murdered in Newtown Connecticut last week.  The church claimed that they would cheer these deaths on as a sign of their "Angry God's" will (as they often do at the funerals of dead soldiers).  Anonymous chose to begin their counterattack by creating a petition to legally classify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, by hacking the church's website, and by making the personal information of the church's leadership available to anyone with an internet connection. 

While the Anonymous group's actions have been an excellent strike against the Westboro Baptist Church's hateful message, these must be supported by further action to end the group's destructive campaign.  As most people know, the best way to hurt an organization is by hitting them in the wallet.  So my proposal is that we do just that.  We must force the Westboro Baptist Church to pay taxes by stripping them of their federal tax-exempt status.  This will damage the group immensely, forcing them to scale back their painful and deliberately hate-filled public stunts.

In order to achieve this goal, we must first understand what tax-exempt status is.  Most people don't know that Nonprofit benefits and Tax-Exempt Status benefits are completely different.  While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they have a very distinct difference.  Nonprofit status is given to an organization by state law, while Tax-Exempt status is a federal government concept that enables qualifying entities to avoid paying federal income tax.  While an organization that is given the state law nonprofit status often qualifies for benefits including exclusion from state taxes (sales, property, state income), such an entity does not automatically qualify for the federal exclusion.  

Certain requirements set forth by the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) must be met for an organization to avoid the long-reaching arm of the federal income tax. The type of organizations that qualify include:

1.  Charitable Organizations

2.  Social Welfare Organizations

3.  Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations

4.  Labor Organizations and Trade Associations (Business Leagues)

5.  Social clubs and Fraternal Societies

6   Employee Benefit Associations/Funds

7.  Veterans Organizations

8.  Certain Political Organizations

So, which of these does the Westboro Baptist Church qualify as?  Generally, churches are given tax-exempt status as public charities. But being a church only qualifies an entity as a tax-exempt public charity if the entity meets the requirements under IRC 501(c)(3) which require that the entity must

1. be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes including:

◦                      relief of the poor, the distressed, or underprivileged

◦                      advancement of religion

◦                      advancement of education or science

◦                      erecting/maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works

◦                      lessening the burdens of government

◦                      lessening neighborhood tensions

◦                      eliminating prejudice and discrimination

◦                      defending human and civil rights; and

◦                      combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.

2. have none of its earning benefit any private shareholder or individual; and

3. not be an action organization that;

◦                      attempts to influence legislation; or

◦                      participates in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

According to the plain language of IRC 501(c), the Westboro Baptist Church should not qualify as a public charity because it clearly does not meet at least two of the above listed requirements.  The group is not organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes.  The actions of this group in picketing funerals and causing pain to citizens weeping for lost loved ones do not advance religion.  Rather, the actions inspire hatred and anger. 

Our job as concerned citizens is to ask our government to follow it's own rules and label this group exactly what it is; a hate group.  You can start by signing the online Anonymous petition (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/legally-recognize-westboro-baptist-church-hate-group/DYf3pH2d#thank-you=p ).  But our action shouldn't stop at a simple click of the mouse.  Write to your local state, and federal legislative politicians and ask them why a group that has dedicated itself to alienating the country, causing pain, and generating hatred is being given the benefit of tax-exemption.  Write to the IRS and demand that they explain what charitable purpose the Westboro Baptist Church is serving to society.  Do your part in striking back against this group of monsters.  Let's hit them where it hurts.

The Westboro Baptist Church has hidden behind their “religion” label in a shell game to take advantage of their tax exempt status.  By simply calling their organization a religion does not change the fact that this is nothing more than a hate group.   Its time the Obama Administration revokes their tax-exempt status.

-Jacob Pillsbury, Esq.

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