Common Misunderstandings

Interest in this blog has far exceeded my expectations when I put it up, and many pro-8 and/or LDS members posting comments have argued that the LDS Church did nothing wrong; others have incorrectly argued that their actions were more egregious than they actually were. Here are some of their arguments:

  • The Church did not directly donate to organizations attempting to influence Proposition 8.
    Campaign finance records show that an in-kind donation of $2,078.97 from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was made on Oct. 25 to (Salt Lake Tribune, 29 October 2008.) [Editor: A later filing showed a contribution as of 2 November for an additional $2,864.21.]
  • Ballot initiatives aren’t legislation or a political candidate, and therefore aren’t covered by the statute.
    False. Ballot initiatives are indeed legislation, and “no substantial part of the activities of [a tax-exempt entity may be] carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation” according to Internal Revenue Code Title 26, §501. In related law, §4911(e)(2) (regulating political activity by certain non-church charitable organizations) states:

    The term “legislation” includes action with respect to Acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items by the Congress, any State legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, or by the public in a referendum, initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure.
  • Because the donation the Church made directly was so small, its activities were not substantial.
    False. The interpretation of the phrase “no substantial part” is not based solely on monetary or percentage terms. See Rosemary Fei’s Introduction to Lobbying by Charities and Joanna Pressman’s
    Legislative and Political Activity Campaign Limitations….
  • The Mormon Church donated most of the money to support Proposition 8.
    False. The LDS church only directly donated in-kind travel expenses; its members, however, did donate approximately 50% of the funds collected by  This common misunderstanding stems from the fact that over 50% of the donations to after 29 June 2008 came from Church members responding to President Monson’s call to action on that date and subsequent fundraising efforts by church and local leaders.

16 Responses to Common Misunderstandings

  1. Ryan says:

    I am not a mormon, but i find your attack disingenuous. The $2,000 “in kind” contribution was for travel costs:

    “Jeff Flint, a co-manager of the ProtectMarriage campaign, says the LDS Church made the in-kind donation to cover the travel expenses of several Utah-based church leaders who went to California for a meeting last week. ”

    How this rises to the level of an “in kind” contribution appears dubious to say the least.

    [Editor: The Church filed formal campaign finance reports acknowledging this in-kind contribution. The LDS Church, not I, designated the donation as a contribution pursuant to applicable law. I’m only reporting what the Church did — that’s not disingenuous.]

  2. Spencer says:

    Another misunderstanding:

    In order to strip the church’s 501(c)(3) status, it would have to be shown that a “substantial part” of the Mormon church, as a whole, is devoted to influencing legislation. By any measure, the church’s involvement here is not a “substantial part” of the church’s overall operations. For example, courts have held that when less than 5 percent of an organization’s activities are devoted to lobbying, it is presumptively not a “substantial part.” Seasongood v. Commissioner, 227 F.2d 907. Does anyone really think that the Mormon church devoted more than 5 percent of its global activities to influencing Prop 8?

  3. Legislation=law says:

    Whoever said initiatives (to create laws) weren’t legislation needs a dictionary. I am confident this WILL not prevail in the long run. Whenever I hear that, I get the argument that “the courts can’t overturn the will of the people.” Apparently their ignorance also applies to the system of checks and balances in this country.

  4. William says:

    The Mormon Church wasn’t just involved in Prop 8. It was also similarly and substantially involved in Prop 102 in AZ. “Substantial part” indicates involvement in any of the listed political activities. The Church’s involvement in Prop 8 is only one instance. The question becomes, in addition to Prop 8 and Prop 102, how much else is the Church trying to influence?

  5. Mike says:

    The fundamental problem is this…

    These decisions do indeed have very lasting effects on people and their religious beliefs. In Massachusetts where this is legal, the Methodist church was FORCED to either allow gays to marry on their private land or give up their tax exempt status. Ultimatly they decided on the latter.

    [Editor: The only case I know of like this was in New Jersey, where the land in question was part of a public area, and the only tax-exempt status revoked was for real estate taxes on that land. See . If you have evidence for your claim, please cite it. ]

    Also they began teaching about the acceptance on gay marriage to second graders.

    [Editor: There was no policy of teaching acceptance of gay marriage to second graders. Robb and Linda Wirthlin (Robb is Joseph B. Wirthlin‘s grandson) had a child in a Massachusetts school where a teacher decided to read, at some of the students’ request, a story about a prince who didn’t like the available princesses and decided to marry a prince. Personally, I think the teacher’s decision was a mistake, but it does not constitute evidence of any statewide policy of educating children on same-sex issues.]

    This is obviously not a place to be teaching such things. When parents protested for several different reasons, some said that they wanted to know when this material was to be presented so that they could keep their kids at home that day. They were trying to protect their children and teach them what they believed was proper. The school district refused because the principal deemed their motives to be discriminatory.

    [Editor: You fail to mention that the Wirthlins eventually sued and the case was dismissed in Federal court. Higher courts refused to hear it on appeal.]

    As far as the LDS church goes they encouraged their members to get involved in the process. To stand for marriage as it is ordained by God. If you want to change this doctrine, I suggest that you go to that source. In the end I believe that any sex outside of marriage is a sin. I further believe that any homosexual intercourse is a sin. This support that is given to proposition 8 is believed to be by some because we dislike a group of people. It is not. We truly do care about all individuals. The ones we are trying to protect is everyone.

    [Editor: I understand that you are well-intentioned and trying to protect others, but I assure you that many people do not require, or desire, your protection — especially if it involves abridging their rights to marry whomever they choose. If you are concerned that their eternal salvation is at stake, you can teach your grandchildren that it is important to extract names from same-sex marriage licenses and have their ordinances performed after they are dead.]

    I realize that this is a very emotionally tense subject. I realize that we all want to blame someone else. But realize that any “boycott” of Utah will not impact the church. The ski resorts are privately owned and usually not by members of the church. This includes Sundance.

    [Editor: I haven’t brought up the Sundance boycott, but I think it is silly. If anything, boycotting Sundance will result in lost revenue for parties who typically oppose the LDS Church and would have a counterproductive effect.]

    As far as the tax issue goes the actions of the LDS church are a VERY VERY far cry from being able to remove the tax exempt status of the church. If gay marriage becomes public law then church, ALL churches, will be compelled to abide by that law. Churches will need to choose to marry gay couples against their doctrine or give up their rights as churches. This has happened in the past due to similar issues.

    [Editor: The Supreme Court reversed a ruling that the Boy Scouts of America were required to admit a gay member because not doing so “violated the state statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.” No law can force churches to avoid discrimination when performing marriages on their private property.]

    I truly wish that we could all just find happiness in our lives. That everyone could do their one thing. Unfortunately that is not the world in which we live. I wish you well.

    [Editor: I know many gays and lesbians who wish that too, and that the LDS Church “could do their one thing” and leave the politics of marriage alone. Thank you for your well wishes, and I wish you the same.]

  6. Efialtis says:

    I know a lot of people hate Wikipedia, but they actualy have a good little blurb about 501(c)(3) …

    “Political activity

    Organizations with this classification are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to influence elections to public office. Public charities are permitted to conduct a limited amount of lobbying to influence legislation. Although the law states that ‘no substantial part’ of a public charity’s activities may be devoted to lobbying, charities with very large budgets may lawfully expend a million dollars (under the ‘expenditure’ test) or more (under the ‘substantial part’ test) per year on lobbying. [7]

    All 501(c)(3) organizations are also permitted to educate individuals about issues, or fund research that supports their political position without overtly advocating for a position on a specific bill. Think tanks such as the Cato Institute, Center for American Progress, and Heritage Foundation and other 501(c)(3) organizations produce reports and recommendations on policy proposals that do not count as lobbying under the tax code. Another example is the The American Foreign Policy Council is a lobbyist organization operating under this code.”

    So, as far as influencing legislation…the church may donate toward that cause, not toward the election of a public official.
    They may also donate, and it is up to the IRS or to a Court to decide if the Church has violated the “substantial” or “expenditure” parts of that law.

    [Editor: Thank you for the post. You are correct on all counts. It is up to the IRS or a Court to decide whether the LDS Church violated the “substantial” or “expenditure” parts of the law. If the IRS receives an unprecedented reaction of thousands of complaints from taxpayers, this may influence its decision on what “substantial” means.]

  7. Mormons vs Gays due to California Prop. 8…

    I think if they used that much tax-free money to influence any political situation at ALL ,they need to lose the tax exempt status.
    I couldn’t agree more. Utah is such a Republican state because it’s ……

  8. Give Me a Break says:

    I seriously doubt that the IRS is going to consider a $2000 payment for travel expenses OR a letter encouraging its members to support a proposition to be substantial. And I doubt that they are going to be influenced by the number of letters received either. They don’t take votes on the issue. They simply enforce the law as it is written. Nor do they take votes on how the law should be changed. So good luck with that. Wait, are you trying to get a law changed? Isn’t that what the people of California were doing by voting for Proposition 8?

    [Editor: The problem is that the meaning of “substantial” is not written into law. I posted a couple of links in Common Misunderstandings.]

    And it’s a nice touch to claim that this forum is open to both sides, but I notice that the editor puts his opinion into pretty much any post that disagrees with his position.

    [Editor: Just because it’s open to both sides doesn’t mean I’m not biased. =) I tend not to respond unless I disagree.]

  9. Shadow says:

    Let me get this stuff out of the way first: I am a resident of California; I am heterosexual; I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; I am not a tax lawyer; I vehemently opposed Proposition 8; and I am sickened at the result. I think that it would be the height of irony if entities like the Church, who were falsely arguing that they could lose their tax-exempt status (for refusing to perform same-sex marriages) if Proposition 8 did not pass, actually lost their tax-exempt status for misconduct related to supporting that proposition. That said…

    What do you consider the effect of 26 U.S.C. § 4911(d)(2)(D) to be? That section defines “influencing legislation” as regards organizations, and it specifically excludes “communications between the organization and its bona fide members with respect to legislation or proposed legislation of direct interest to the organization and such members” from the definition of “influencing legislation.” By its terms this definition applies only to Section 4911 (and not to any other section such as Section 501), but I think the IRS will probably consider it persuasive in determining whether the Church improperly attempted to “influence legislation” by urging its members to donate time and money in support of Proposition 8. I’m very interested in your thoughts.

    [Editor: Churches are exempt from Section 4911. The question is one of whether it met the “no substantial part” test. I tend to agree that it is relevant; ultimately, the IRS has to make a determination. A large number of filed complaints may have an impact on their opinion, or on the opinion of the next Congress when considering amending the tax code.]

  10. Shawn says:

    Mr. Editor Guy, Thanks for updating the misconceptions regarding where donations came from. I respect you for being objective on that matter, and encourage you to continue to be so honest and objective in the information you provide here.

    [Editor: Thank you for your comment. I wondered why you called me a “guy” until I realized I revealed that by way of being an Eagle Scout. I am doing my best to be honest and objective; still, I recognize that my own opinions prevent me from being 100% fair to both sides.]

  11. Paula says:

    Good article. This is a very informative site. I’d just like to point out that Matt (poster above) is rather typical of people who believed the Proposition 8 lies. 1) The Methodist Church incident he referred to had to do with public land, not private. Religious institutions may discriminate as they please so long as it is on their private turf. There are exactly ZERO cases where a religious institution has been forced to marry gays or otherwise accept them into their congretations against their wishes. 2) In Massachusetts there is a law that requires schools to teach certain things if they teach health or family issues at all. Parents may not opt their children out. If a parent is concerned, they’ve every right to put their child in a private religious school where they will not have such exposure. In California, there IS an opt-out law, and it remained so even while gays were allowed to marry. The two cases were NEVER equivalent, and the hype about “It WILL happen in California” was a pure, undulterated lie designed to instill panic. 3) As with #1, separation of church and state in California provides that NO church will EVER be forced to perform gay marriages if it is against their doctrine. That is yet another fear-mongering lie.
    It is sad that so many people bought into those lies to the point that they attempted to write discrimination into the California constitution! Those behind the lies should give up their right to call themselves good Christians, as good Christians do not lie!

  12. Give Me a Break says:

    Paula, it DID happen in California schools.

    A few weeks ago children in a 1st grade class attended their teacher’s gay wedding in San Francisco on a school-organized field trip. The principal called it a “teachable moment.”

    Kindergartners at Faith Ringgold School of Arts and Science in Hayward, CA, were asked to sign pledge cards saying they would not use anti-LGBT language. Parents who felt their children were far too young for such a discussion, most at an average age of 5 who are just learning the basics of reading and writing, were not permitted to opt-out.

    California Education Code Section 51933 states schools “shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships.” According to the California Department of Education website, 96% of schools teach this curriculum. I live in California, and I have never received an opportunity to opt out of this curriculum. Why would I be able to opt out if gay marriage was added to the marriage curriculum?

    If schools were not going to be targeted in the next phase of gay rights, why did the California teachers union feel the need to contribute millions to the No on 8 campaign?

    “Regarding opt-out rights, an organization called the California Safe Schools Coalition published A Question & Answer Guide for California School Officials & Administrators. The Coalition’s Steering Committee includes The California Teachers Association, Equality California, American Civil Liberties Union chapters throughout California, State Senator Sheila Kuehl, and other prominent backers of No On 8 who have already raised millions of dollars to oppose the measure.

    Here’s one of the questions and answers:

    Can parents ‘opt out’ of their children’s participation in school programs that discuss sexual orientation and gender identity?

    State law explicitly provides that “instruction or materials that discuss gender, sexual orientation, or family law and do not discuss human reproductive organs or their functions” is not subject to the parental notice and opt out laws. Thus, where issues of sexual orientation or gender identity are raised in school programs other than HIV/AIDS or sexual health education, such as programs designed to encourage respect and tolerance for diversity, parents are not entitled to have notice of or the opportunity to opt their children out of such programs. California law does not support a broad parental veto regarding the contents of public school instruction.”

  13. lds501c3 says:

    With respect to schools, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, denounced a controversial Yes on 8 ad, saying:

    “Prop 8 has nothing to do with schools or kids. Our schools aren’t required to teach anything about marriage, and using kids to lie about that is shameful.”

    I have already posted that parents, not legislators or courts, have the responsibility to teach their children right from wrong. The trouble here is while you may believe same-sex marriage is against some universal moral truth, nearly half of California’s people do NOT believe that. Even if schools were required to teach anything about marriage, abridging minorities’ rights in order to protect some children from ideas some people disagree with is not acceptable. Parents who disagree with same-sex marriage should teach their children that their family does not believe in it, just as parents who believe in strict creationism teach their children that the theory of evolution taught in school is wrong.

  14. Tax-man says:

    The IRS has an obligation to review the LDS tax exempt status.

    Especially since they basically TOLD members how to vote on it.

    I for one would love to see the LDS church have to pay taxes.

  15. Give Me a Break says:

    lds501c3, most votes take away from the minority some right that they think they are entitled to. For example, I think that I should have the right to know if my teenage daughter decides to get an abortion. However, I do not have that right because I am in the MINORITY of California voters who think I am entitled to that right. Now, you may be in the MAJORITY who think that I am not entitled to that right, but that doesn’t change my opinion that I think I AM entitled to that right. However, the voters have spoken.

    In the case of gay marriage though, the MINORITY is completely unwilling to accept the vote of the MAJORITY and keeps looking for some way to punish that majority (or at least the party that they are convinced is responsible for creating that majority). Which brings us to the entire reason for the existence of this website, I say go ahead and fight your fight. I don’t think you will win this fight either though.

  16. murphy says:

    Hey admin,

    While I don’t agree with you on prop 8, it’s nice to see you making an honest effort to point out the falsehoods on both sides of the debate. So keep up the good work, every now and then intelligent points DO rise above the background noise.

    Oh, and by your own source Seasongood v. Commissioner establishes 5% as not substantial. Now it’s obvious that the Church didn’t hit that level even if you do count the $4800 of reimbursements as cash. But the Church also didn’t hit that level of activity if you consider the staggering scope of its worldwide activities.

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