Faith organizations are essentially nonprofits. In principal, they exist to address the spiritual and sometimes, temporal needs of their faith communities as well as the greater community.
But, faith organizations aren't exactly nonprofits essentially with thanks to the US Constitution. Rick Cohen notes in the latest Nonprofit Quarterly Newswire that this complication gets a bit confounding for folks like Senator Grassley, our steadfast watchdog over all things nonprofit.
The topic in particular is the Prosperity Churches. According to Wikipedia:
Prosperity theology (also known as prosperity doctrine, health and wealth, prosperity gospel) is a religious belief centered on the notion that God provides material prosperity for those he favors. It implies both that people who are favored by God will be materially successful, and also that materially successful people are successful because God favored them. The prosperity gospel is often used by its promoters to elicit donations, on the premise that donations will be materially repaid and rewarded through divine intervention.
This is at least a good enough definition for this discussion. So, according to Mr. Cohen,
(Prosperity) ministries collect donations that count as charitable deductions, they don’t report with anything like the levels of transparency that most 501(c)(3) nonprofits pursue, as Senator Grassley’s frustrated attempts to get basic information on their financial records has revealed. For the most part, nonprofits follow the laws on financial reporting through their IRS 990 forms. These prosperity gospel ministries, like religious organizations in general, have been exempt from that kind of reporting. It may be time for the prosperity gospel ministries, many of which have become quite prosperous through their solicitation of charitable donations, to begin following, or being compelled to follow nonprofit-like public accountability and transparency rules.
So, as much as I might agree in principle with Mr. Cohen, how will such action be reconciled with the Constitution?