How to Incorporate Your Coven
in the State of Florida
11/14/2016

Who decides what is a religion in the United States of America? 

It's the Internal Revenue Service. Setting aside commentaries upon
spirituality within our country, being recognized as a religious
community means that you get to ordain your own clergy, avoid sales
tax, and be taken more seriously by mundane organizations. Budget
$200 for state and federal filing fees to fund this venture.

The key to looking more like established groups, is to incorporate.
Corporations are governed by state law. You do not have to be a
lawyer to do this, but you must know something of the requirements
for not-for-profit corporations. In Florida, these are defined in
Chapter 617 of the Florida statutes. The state will insist that you
include specific elements within your charter or "organizing
document." See dos.myflorida.com

A corporation is expected to have a President, Secretary,
Treasurer, and a Registered Agent. The President calls and presides
at meetings and speaks for the corporation. The Secretary keeps
records and the Treasurer manages the money. The Registered Agent
is a person who keeps regular office hours upon whom subpoenas can
be served. Once officially served, such legal notices can not be
ignored. Thus you need a responsible person for registered agent. 
After that, you can have as many Vice Presidents, Assistant
Secretaries and Assistant Treasurers as you like.

A non-profit corporation must have a Board of Directors of three 
or more Directors. It's your directors who set policy. You determine 
whether your officers are also directors or not.

The second entity to be reckoned with is the Internal Revenue
Service. They will insist that you include specific provisions in
your charter. You do not have to be an accountant, but you must
understand the provisions in IRS Publication 1828 Tax Guide for
Churches and Religious Organizations. There is also Publication 
557 Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization and Publication 517  
Social Security and Other Information for Members of the Clergy & 
Religious Workers. See www.irs.ustreas.gov

The third entity to be reckoned with is your own community. How
will you work, play and fight together? You know more about this
than any outside attorney or accountant. You will be welcoming
people into your community, performing ordinations, performing
ministries, and occasionally banishing people. How will you do this
in a manner that your community will view as fair?

After you jump through all these hoops and attain your Letter of
Determination from the IRS that you are tax-exempt, you will have
birthed a legal structure of some value. You will want to include
provisions to make it difficult for someone else to snatch this
corporation away from you.

The IRS does not declare you to be tax-exempt. They recognize from
your reported behavior that you are acting like an organization
exempt from taxation. It's the old, "If you walk like a duck and
quack like a duck, they write you a letter that says you are a duck."

Your reported behavior is what you put in your application for a
tax-exempt ruling, Package 1023, 501(c)(3) Kit. In this, you 
want to include everything you may ever do, because later the IRS 
looks for "unrelated business income and activities." Once 
they have signed off on your behavior, you are OK.

You file your application after you have one calendar year of
documented operations. You compile this data of finances and
programs to demonstrate that you are doing what you say. Since you
are the successor to an unincorporated association, you will
include documentation of this history too.

Your corporation is defined by a public document called a charter
or articles of incorporation. These include the required elements
of your corporation plus anything else you would not want to get
lost. In Florida, this charter is recorded with the Secretary of
State and is available for inspection by anyone. It costs money to
file a charter and again if you amend it.

Your corporation is further defined by a private document called
bylaws. Here the details are stated of what is defined in the
charter. You keep your bylaws to yourself, except from the IRA,
banks, and others with whom you have a business relationship. Thus
you want these documents to look as long-established, professional,
formal, and normal as possible.

You can amend your bylaws as often as you want and by the
procedures you establish. It is possible than members could
squabble over which set of bylaws is the most current. Keep good
records.

Once you have your charter filed with the Secretary of State, you
can apply to the IRS for a Tax Identification Number, or TIN. This
is a "social security number for corporations."  It has nothing to
do with your tax status. Every business entity with which you deal
will want to know your tax number.

Many organizations look to the IRS for initial screening of
charities. If the IRS will not recognize you as a 501(c)(3)
organization, they will not talk to you.

Once you have received your Letter of Determination, you can apply
to the Florida Department of Revenue for a Consumer's Certificate
of Exemption from state sales tax by filing Form DR-5. This certificate 
comes with a number different from your TIN. To get it, a religious 
organization must hold a 501(c)(3) ruling and also document that they 
hold regular worship services in a physical location. See 
dor.myflorida.com/dor/

Linked here are a sample charter and bylaws. We do not give legal or
accounting advice, and I recommend that you seek out competent
guidance in these areas. We only report what has previously worked
for us. It takes both "visionary" and "detail" talent to birth a
religious corporation. One skill without the other will not be
sufficient.

Study these papers with an eye towards Good Witch/Bad Witch. 
How do you maintain a sense of fairness as you add or remove
people from your council or membership? Who will vote to do what
and how many must agree? Who can amend your bylaws, where you will
define these rules? These are not simple questions.

The meat of your corporation is in the Bylaws. But the Charter 
does define how you change your Bylaws, so you want changing 
the how-to-change to be very difficult. The next question is how 
many Bad Witches might appear on your Council to vote against 
the Good Witches, before you can toss them out. The equation 
can become rather subtle.

There are many twists and turns in the creation of all this paper.
Notice that the Council is the Inner Court and the members are the 
Outer Court. The concept of "Elder in Communion" creates a way 
to include others on a parallel and sympathetic path and to extend 
to them "marrying credentials." There are other side benefits 
such as options in the purchase of sacramental wine. This permit 
would be used through a distributor such as Southern Wine and Spirits
for purchases by the case. Southern has rules like a $200 or five case 
minimum.

Section 617.0834 of the 2016 Florida Statutes provides for the
indemnification of officers, directors, employees and agents from 
liability for monetary damages to any person for any statement, 
vote, decision, or failure to take action within specified limits.

The filing fees for all of this are $78.75 for the Florida Charter 
in 2012, $61.25 to renew the Florida corporation each year, and $400 
to file the application for tax-exemption with the I.R.S. in 2012 
after building a year of history.

Every word counts. This is like painting a picture, weaving a
tapestry, or casting a spell. Here is not a task to be left to
clerks.

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