Religion according to the IRS

The late Jonathan Z. Smith in his essay ‘God Save This Honourable Court: Religion and Civic Discourse’ commented, ‘The Internal Revenue Service is, both de facto and de jure, America’s primary definer and classifier of religion.’ (Relating Religion, p. 376) Here’s the criteria the IRS used to determine if a group qualifies as a ‘church’ (some mix needed):

-Distinct legal existence
-Recognized creed and form of worship
-Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
-Formal code of doctrine and discipline
-Distinct religious history
-Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
-Organization of ordained ministers
-Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
-Literature of its own
-Established places of worship
-Regular congregations
-Regular religious services
-Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
-Schools for the preparation of its members

I’ll be dedicating a class period of this semester’s ‘Religion in the United States’ (and next year in ‘Religion in Global Context’) to this topic. It’s a fascinating list of criteria. (In recent years it’s allowed the Scientologist, the Satanic Temple, and even John Oliver’s spoof ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence’ have qualified.)


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