No, and nobody’s ever been arrested for saying “Merry Christmas.”


Sorry if this is veering toward the political, but I take things like censorship kind of seriously.

No, Reverend. you are not “prohibited from saying certain things from the pulpit,” unless those “certain things” involve inciting violence or advocating the overthrow of the government. And even that will generally be free from consequences.


  1. This kind of conspiracy theory propaganda makes Hart’s proselytizing look almost tolerable. It’s been decades since I’ve read Gasoline Alley regularly, but this strip makes me glad I haven’t wasted any time on it since Scancarelli took over.

  2. I’m not sure what the comic is referring to, but pastors (and other leaders of 401(c)3 charitable organizations) are prohibited from explicitly endorsing political candidates, or they risk losing their tax exempt status. i.e. it’s not illegal in the sense of risking jail time, but they could in theory start having to pay taxes. So, for example, panel 3 makes sense with “who to vote for.”

    The IRS doesn’t do much to enforce this rule, and even if they did, the rule probably doesn’t make much difference, because a pastor is free to say things like “on Election Day, keep in mind the important issues, like how abortion is murder,” which only the most stupid parishioner could fail to understand.

  3. The misleading bit for me is where the reverend says “These days we are prohibited” – implying that these prohibitions are new when in fact this law dates back to 1954!

  4. I think Bill, you have it backwards: no one is prohibited from saying anything, only that certain things you say might not be free from consequences, eg, if you incite violence, you might be prosecuted for such, or if you endorse a political candidate, you might have to start paying taxes, and WW indicated.

    Sadly, as I’ve mentioned before, I never got to the First Amendment in law school, focusing instead on the 4th (they don’t teach them in order!), so I can’t say if that is the canonical interpretation; I can say that just because the law schools teach something as a canonical interpretation, doesn’t make it the correct interpretation, except in as far as it’s the likely interpretation should it get to court, especially if it’s already been decided by the Supreme Court — still doesn’t necessarily make it the correct interpretation… (cf Kelo v City of New London)

  5. “No, Reverend. you are not ‘prohibited from saying certain things from the pulpit,'”

    Depending on how the church is set up, he might be. Censorship doesn’t just come from government. In fact, originally, it came from the Church.

    So the church organization might have a whole list of subjects he’s free to say when speaking as a private individual, but not when speaking for the church (“from the pulpit”).

    Like, say, wondering if that big Jesus on the cross above the altar might be considered some kind of “graven image” or not.

  6. I didn’t even know that “Gasoline Alley” was still being run. As the strip “aged” their people in real time wouldn’t everybody in the original strip be ancient or dead by now? I must admit it has been 35 years since I saw a strip.

    Publicly endorsing a candidate from the pulpit is one of those things that could get your NonProfit/religious exemption pulled but the only time I have ever heard of it being enforced was a RW Nazi/White supremacist preacher from the wayback of Idaho. Even that was long ago.

  7. One of the things the pastor appeared to be saying is “Pastors can’t tell their congregation […] who to vote for.” Which is true — they’ll lose their tax exempt status. But… I’m pretty okay with requiring a separation of church and state if the church doesn’t want to pay money to the state.

  8. larK: They used to teach them in order, but it took so long to cover all the copious caselaw on the 3rd Amendment, that they would never get to the 4th.

  9. Gasoline Alley just last week celebrated its 100th anniversary, Raymond. It’s been the oldest continually-published strip since The Katzenjammer Kids went to reruns, and it’s now the longest-running strip ever.

    Scancarelli’s tenure has been generally highly lauded; sermonizing such as this seems to be fairly rare.

  10. For some reason my mind substitutes different #@!%-es for the redacted words, which makes this very, very funny (if not realistic).

    Try it.

  11. “I didn’t even know that “Gasoline Alley” was still being run. As the strip “aged” their people in real time wouldn’t everybody in the original strip be ancient or dead by now? I must admit it has been 35 years since I saw a strip.”

    In theory they are. Walt Wallet is portrayed as exceedingly old. Of course that means he’s at leas 125 years old but he’s being treat as an octogenarean whom nobody knows the age of. They’ll mention Skeezix is in his mid 90’s but he’s portray physically as in his seventies and mentally as… who know.

    These two acting as the they are mentally in their twenties are probably pushing late 60s.


    And for what it worth. The politics on this is dead wrong and offensively so. Of course churches shouldn’t tell you how to vote and the idea they’d even consider it should be appalling to everyone. And tax exempt status implies approval of the government. The church can not be public, political, and religious. No institute can.

    I’m rather disappointed in this one.

  12. Winter Wallaby: you trolled me but good — I’m going what the heck? How can there be copious case law about not quartering soldiers in your house? And even went so far as to start looking it up, before the penny dropped. Well played, sir.

  13. I can see I’m the only one here with this position, but I’ll say that while I can see both sides, I think that the rule against churches making political recommendations should be unconstitutional (although the Supreme Court did not bother to check with me, and ruled the other way). Churches, and other 401(c)3 organizations, should have a right to decide what their beliefs imply. Ideally, they should make that decision carefully, but if the International Rescue Committee makes (in my mind, justifiably) many statements that the treatment of refugees has been terrible under President [redacted], why should they be barred from observing that no one who cares about refugees should vote for President [redacted], or telling people that his proposed HR-12345 is a terrible bill? (Of course, you may or may not agree with the IRC, and I definitely don’t want to start a conversation about President [redacted]; my point is just that 401(c)3’s often have legitimate reasons to make statements about candidates and government policies.)

    It’s true that no one has the constitutional right to tax-exempt status, just like no one has the right to tax credits or AFDC payments. But to give those things out, and then threaten to take them away for exercising your free speech, is equivalent to penalizing free speech.

  14. “I think that the rule against churches making political recommendations should be unconstitutional (although the Supreme Court did not bother to check with me, and ruled the other way).”

    Hypothetical Justice Me would have voted with the status quo.

    People who want to avoid paying income tax can do so, via the simple expedient of not earning any income. People who want to avoid paying property tax can do so, by not owning property. It’s clearly within our rights to own property and earn income, and not punitive of either to pay taxes on them.

    An entity that wishes to be a tax-deductible non-profit can choose to continue to be a tax-deductible non-profit, or it can electioneer, but it can’t do both. It must choose one or the other.

    (Of course, in the real world, the problem is solved by having an associated entity that is NOT a tax-deductible non-profit, that engages in all the electioneering for both entities.)

  15. I was reading a really good book some years back that analyzed important court cases relating to each amendment in the Bill of Rights. When they got to #4, they basically said Okay, nothing really interesting to say about this one, so we’ll just say a few words and move along.

  16. Four years ago, my polling place was in a church. Nobody could get to the voting booth without passing numerous posters reminding us what Jesus does and doesn’t approve of.

  17. I, too, have often wondered why voting in a church was ever allowed.

    BTW, so long as *I* have to pay taxes to make up for churches NOT paying taxes, there is NO separation of church and state, nor is there freedom OF or FROM religion.

  18. I thought of it less as a “campaigning from the pulpit” issue than “electioneering within 500 feet of a polling place”.

  19. In 1792, in many small towns, the church was the only public building, so that was the only place to put the polls.

    I think there may be some things pastors are prohibited from saying from the pulpit. I never saw or heard a pastor say “Hail Satan!” or “Jesus never existed” or “Blessed are the fornicators for they experience heaven on earth.”

  20. “When they got to #4, they basically said Okay, nothing really interesting to say about this one, so we’ll just say a few words and move along.”

    I hope this was a typo of “4” where a “3” should be, or you got ripped off paying for that book.

  21. ” I never saw or heard a pastor say “Hail Satan!” or “Jesus never existed” or “Blessed are the fornicators for they experience heaven on earth.””

    Doesn’t mean they are censored from saying it.

  22. Yes, that should have been “3”: fat fingers, tiny keyboard.

    When I bought my phone, keyboard size was one of my top criteria; then the phone stopped working and they replaced it with one with a microscopic keyboard.

  23. Churches are free to be non-profit and electioneer as long as they get a non-501(c)(3) nonprofit status. It’s that specific type of charity that is forbidden to electioneer.

  24. Bill: There is actually a circuit court case on the the Third Amendment (Engblom v. Carey), but you would have to stretch to call it “important.”

  25. I’m a minister of the Universal Life Church (yeah, sixties thing. . .), though I’ve never made much use of that exalted status. Now I’m tempted to round up a congregation (my wife and our cat, I guess) just so I can preach “Hail Satan” from my pulpit (the sagging north end of the sofa) and thus feel I’m expanding Mark in Boston’s horizons. (Assuming he’ll take my word for it.)

    Of course, the hard part in that scenario is the idea of “rounding up” a cat when you want to do so.

  26. I am, too! In fact, First Hubby and I actually went to the Kenosha County Courthouse to be registered as such. You can imagine the clerk’s confusion, but she had to do it.

    Even more confusion ensued when, after marriage, I declined to change my last name on my driver’s license (just my address). More confusion ensued ’til someone remembered that their office had JUST rec’d a memo on the retention of last names; the clerk thought it wonderful that I’d done that (MIL thought it awful; just gave her another reason to despise me.)

    How far we’ve come (sometimes; sometimes not).

    Now, to round up seven dogs; I often state that it’s like ‘herding cats’. Altho when I DON’T try to herd them, they’re all trying to sit on the couch with us. Go figure. I guess I could hold a random “service”; I would love this house to be tax-exempt (I think it was attempted by some members of the ULC, but the courts refused to honor this ‘church’).

  27. @me: “my pulpit (the sagging north end of the sofa)”

    And before I get defrocked for lying, I must hastily correct my error: the sagging end of our sofa is the *south* end.

    Confession is good for the soul (even nonexistent ones, presumably).

  28. So seriously, how is the government deciding which churches are “real” and which aren’t for tax purposes NOT making a law respecting an establishment of religion??

  29. larK: The government doesn’t decide which churches are “real” in the sense of having “real” religious doctrines. They decide which meet the requirements of 501(c)(3) organizations, which includes religious and non-religious non-profits.

  30. From Found. of Human Understanding v. United States, 614 F.3d 1383, 1387-88 (Fed. Cir. 2010), footnote 1:
    “A “religious organization” that does not enjoy “church” status is required to file informational returns with the IRS under I.R.C. § 6033, and the IRS has broader authority to investigate such an organization’s activities.”

    So the Government is making fine distinctions about your religion: you may have enough of a religion to be a “religious organization”, but not enough to be a “church”, and there is a material difference in that you have to file paperwork with the IRS each year if you are merely a “religious organization”, whereas if you are a “church”, you don’t.

    Again, I ask, how is this NOT making a law respecting an establishment of religion?

  31. Put another way:
    “Well, you see, those guys, they automatically don’t have to pay taxes, no extra paperwork required, because we recognize them as a church, whereas you, you have to petition us each year by filling out this paperwork if you want to not pay taxes.”

  32. larK: From a brief skim of the case, the distinction the IRS is making doesn’t seem particularly problematic to me under the Establishment Clause, but I also don’t see the need to defend it, since, from that same footnote, this distinction that you’re attacking is unrelated to what we were discussing: tax-exempt status

    “The IRS made clear that, even without church status under section 170, the Foundation qualified as a ‘religious organization’ under I.R.C. § 501(c)(3) and therefore would not lose its tax-exempt status.”

  33. Yeah, that whole case was an exercise of ignoring the elephant in the room by focusing on the minutia to ignore the bigger question, which I raised above, and which the Foundation of Human Understanding was raising by challenging it as much as they did — I mean, they got tax exempt status either way, so why should they care? Except that the government is telling them, that while yes, they are a religion, they’re not real enough of one to be a church. Why does the government insist on the differentiation, when the the only practical upshot that the government supposedly cares about, the taxes, is the same in both cases? (Well, not quite the same, as one has to defend itself every year with the filing of extra paperwork, where the other gets automatic recognition by the government –hmmm….)

  34. larK: I’m not sure what elephant you’re referring to? That religious organizations can be 501(c)(3) nonprofits is already settled under Supreme Court precedent, so a circuit court isn’t going to revisit that question, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.

  35. Mark in Boston – actually originally voting was done at the county courthouse and the men were required to travel to same to vote. This is why we vote traditionally on a Tuesday. Men were not suppose to travel for such a trip on a Sunday, so by having the voting on a Tuesday they had all day Monday to get to the courthouse to vote.

    The roll of registered voters would be called out one at a time and that man would vote – aloud – and his vote recorded. When the voting was over the winner be declared and the taverns would get a lot of business.

    In the colonies generally men had to own property to be allowed to vote – this generally was a specific amount of land, but depending on the colony it could also be a certain value of tools of their trade.

    Ah, but why it is the second Tuesday of November you are about to ask me? Well, November was after the harvest,but still generally warm enough (and free of snow enough) for men to make the trip to the county courthouse. If November 1 was the first Tuesday there would be problem as it was a religious holiday – All Saints Day (on November 1) so by making it a week later so there would never be a problem.

  36. carlfink – Our reenactment unit was an unincorporated association (basically a not for profit partnership)as a 501(c)(3) organization when Robert and I joined and we had a fit at the idea that it was not a corporation -” hey, we have guns”.

    So during the period that Robert was commander we incorporated the unit and applied as the corporation, again, for 501(3)(c) status. (And somehow we ended up becoming an education corporation instead of a regular Department of State corporation as Department of Education had a say in our corporation and had to approve it as our purpose is education and they had an idea to make all museums, reenactment units and the like into education corporations – we are the only unit we know of with this status and have to add to the end of our already too long corporate name – “a New York State Education Corporation” instead of Inc or Ltd.)

    When applying for the 501(c)(3) with IRS one of the many choices and questions to be answered was if we would be (I forget the wording) conducting political activities, to which we answered no. (Our membership runs includes Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and those from other parties as well – and, yes we all get along by not pushing our politics at each other.)

    So not all 501(c)(3)’s can conduct political activities. I think that a few years ago there was a big ado about 501(c)(3)s conducting political activities.

    (This way when the politicians want to come and talk at our events as the Town gives us a stipend and use of our headquarters, we can say, sorry we have to remain nonpolitical.)

  37. Are we in for a month of “They won’t let us say ‘Christmas'” gags? They were old when Preteena’s teacher was going on about it many years ago.

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