Is That Legal?
One of the most common concerns Pastors and Churches have when it comes to political involvement is the legality of what you can and can’t say or do as a tax-exempt organization.
Listed below are organizations that stand in defense of Churches and Pastors throughout the United States. Each provide a plethora of informational documents that cover a broad range of topics that are available for free on their respective websites.
Liberty Counsel Pastors, Churches, and Politics – This resource covers topics on political candidates and lobbying. While groups with agendas seek to silence pastors and churches, Mathew Staver would encourage pastors to throw off their muzzle and pick up a megaphone. It’s time pastors and churches became the moral conscience of the community.
Below is the Liberty Counsel’s cheat-sheet that was produced for Churches and Pastors to ensure you are within your rights when speaking to and about political issues. You can download the print version HERE. They also produced an informational letter for Pastors called “Pastors & Politics” which you can download HERE.
|SUPPORTING OR OPPOSING CANDIDATES||CHURCH||PASTOR|
|Endorsing or opposing political candidates||No||Yes|
|Contributions to political candidate||No||Yes|
|In-kind and independent expenditures for or against political candidates||No||Yes|
|Contributions to Political Action Committees||No||Yes|
|Appearance of political candidate at church meeting or service||Yes||N/A|
|Introduction of political candidates at church||Yes||Yes|
|Political candidate to preach or read scripture (contributions should not be solicited & message should not urge people to vote for the candidate)||Yes||N/A|
|Voter registration programs and campaigns (non-partisan)||Yes||Yes|
|Distribution of candidate surveys and incumbent voting records (avoid editorial opinions)||Yes||Yes|
|Distribution in church parking lot of political statements and opinions on political issues (so long as no church endorsement)||Yes||N/A|
|Rent or loan church mailing lists to political candidates (list must be made available to all candidates on similar terms and prices)||Yes||N/A|
|Church bulletin political ads at regular price and news stories||Yes||N/A|
|Church bulletin editorial where the pastor or staff member endorses or opposes a candidate||No||No|
|Church bulletin editorial regarding political issues or two different church members take opposing views on a candidate||Yes||N/A|
|Use of church facilities by political candidates (if all other candidates are allowed or invited)||Yes||N/A|
|Fund-raising for candidates||No||Yes|
|Campaigning for candidates||No||Yes|
|Educate members of the public about viewpoints of candidates||Yes||Yes|
|Discuss church doctrine pertaining to candidate views such as abortion, homosexuality and marriage||Yes||Yes|
|Granting use of name to support a political candidate||No*||Yes*|
|Support or oppose judicial, department or cabinet appointments||Yes||Yes|
|Support or oppose judicial candidates||No||Yes|
|Support or oppose other political appointments of non-elected officials||Yes||Yes|
|SUPPORTING OR OPPOSING LEGISLATION||CHURCH||PASTOR|
|Use of church facilities by lobbying groups to discuss social issues||Yes||N/A|
|Rent or loan church mailing list to lobbying groups||Yes||N/A|
|Preach sermons on social issues and political issues and activism||Yes||Yes|
|Educate on political process and political/social/legislative issues||Yes||Yes|
|Petition drives supporting or opposing legislation or citizen initiatives||Yes||Yes|
|Support or oppose legislation unrelated to the church organization||Yes**||Yes|
|Support or oppose legislation that directly relates to the organization||Yes***||Yes|
|Encourage people to voice for or against legislation or citizen initiatives||Yes**||Yes|
|Lobby candidates to support or oppose legislation or citizen initiatives||Yes**||Yes|
|Distribute position papers supporting or opposing legislation or citizen initiatives||Yes**||Yes|
*A pastor may include title and church affiliation in a personal endorsement along with the following notation: “Title and affiliation for identification purposes.”
**Churches and other 501(c)3 organizations may support or oppose legislation so long as such activity comprises an insubstantial part of the overall operation. A 501(c)4 organization may support or oppose legislation without any limitations.
***A church or any other 501(c)3 organization may without limitation support or oppose legislation that directly affects the organizational structure and operation of the organization. For example, a church may without limitation oppose legislation attempting to repeal the tax-exempt status of the church.
Christian Legal Society (CLS) is a nationwide fellowship of Christians committed to acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God (Micah 6:8). Founded in 1961, CLS defends the religious liberties of all Americans in the legislatures and the courts and serves those most in need in our society through Christian Legal Aid.
By inspiring, encouraging, and equipping Christian lawyers and law students both individually and in community to proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law, the provision of legal assistance to the poor and needy, and the defense of the inalienable rights to life and religious freedom we are fulfilling the command of Micah 6:8 and ensuring the next generation of Americans has the same opportunities to share their faith in community.
Churches, Free Speech, and the Regulations of the IRS Regarding Elections The First Amendment clearly protects Churches’ right to speak on moral issues of the day and, to develop and disseminate information on public policy matters. In recent years, however, some have attempted to intimidate pastors and their churches from getting involved in political matters during elections. The chief tool of intimidation has been the threat of loss of a church’s tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Liberal advocacy groups and some government officials selectively target churches with a conservative viewpoint who speak out on political and social matters. They invoke provisions of the Internal Revenue Code restricting political speech by churches, and attempt to revoke a church’s tax exempt status. As a result of these efforts to chill churches’ exercise of Amendment rights, churches are confused and intimidated.
The Thomas More Society is a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty. Based in Chicago, the Thomas More Society defends and fosters support for these causes by providing high quality pro bono legal services from local trial courts all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Chuck LiMandri: Special Counsel.
Pacific Justice Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. Pacific Justice Institute works diligently, without charge, to provide its clients with all the legal support they need.
“Through our dedicated attorneys and supporters, we defend the rights of countless individuals, families and churches…without charge.”
Pacific Justice Institute’s strategy is to coordinate and oversee large numbers of concurrent court actions through a network of hundreds of affiliate attorneys nationwide. And, according to former United States Attorney General Edwin Meese, “The Institute fills a critical need on the West Coast for those whose civil liberties are threatened.”
First Liberty’s mission is to defend and restore religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, inside the military, and throughout the public arena.
First Liberty fights to restore religious liberty pursuant to the principles of America’s founders—that religious freedom does not mean confining religious expression to church or home, but that true religious liberty consists of recognizing individuals’ God-given right to follow their conscience and to live and act according to their faith in every area of life.
Our nation was founded on the premise that rights come from God—in fact, the Declaration of Independence references God four times, including in the following famous passage:
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”