The Politics of Religion
What church leaders should know in an election year.

We've recently looked at the political activity of churches. In the upcoming September/October 2012 edition of Church Law & Tax Report, Rich Hammar revisits what the Internal Revenue Service says is–and isn't–allowed by churches when it comes to political candidates running for office:

The income tax regulations interpreting the limitation on political campaign intervention provide that neither a church nor any other organization can be exempt from federal income taxation if its charter empowers it "directly or indirectly to participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." The regulations further provide that:
"The term "candidate for public office" means an individual who offers himself, or is proposed by others, as a contestant for an elective public office, whether such office be national, state, or local. Activities which constitute participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate include, but are not limited to, the publication or distribution of written or printed statements or the making of oral statements on behalf of or in opposition to such a candidate." Treas. Reg. 1.501(c)(3)-1( c )(3)(iii).
This regulation provides some clarification. In particular, it clarifies that:
  • A "candidate" for public office includes local, state, and national candidates;
  • The prohibited intervention or participation in a political campaign can be satisfied either by the making of oral statements or by the publishing or distribution of written statements;
  • Statements made in opposition to, as well as on behalf of, a particular candidate are prohibited.

Read more coverage of churches and political activity in the September/October 2012 edition ofChurch Law & Tax Report. A one-year subscription is currently available at a special, $44 rate in honor of Church Law & Tax Report's 25th anniversary.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Terry Anderson

September 04, 2012  3:32pm

Here is a list of what Churches & Pastors Can and Can't do politically. For Churches: Conduct non-partisan voter registration Yes Conduct non-partisan get out the vote activities Yes Distribute non-partisan voter guides Yes Distribute non-partisan voting records Yes Support/oppose legislation Yes Support/oppose ballot initiative Yes Support/oppose political or judicial nominee Yes Support/oppose political candidates No Candidate speaks at church (not identified as candidate; political campaign is not mentioned) Yes Host forum for political candidates (all candidates invited) Yes Political fundraising No Sale/rent church list to candidate at market value (made available to all candidates) Yes Provide link on church's website to candidate's campaign website No Contribute to political candidates No Contribute to political action committees (PACs) No Offer bulletin or newsletter ads at market rate Yes For Pastors: Conduct non-partisan voter registration Yes Distribute non-partisan voter guides Yes Distribute non-partisan voting records Yes Support/oppose legislation Yes Support/oppose ballot initiative Yes Support/oppose political or judicial nominee Yes As an individual, pastor endorses/opposes political candidate (no church resources/facilities used) Yes Pastor endorses/opposes political candidate from pulpit No As an individual, political fundraising (no church resources/facilities used) Yes As an individual, contribute to political candidates (no church resources/facilities used) Yes As an individual, contribute to political action committees (PACs) (no church resources/facilities used) Yes Conduct nonpartisan get out the vote measures Yes For more information see IRS Publication 1828 and Fact Sheet 2006-17, both available at

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August 30, 2012  10:37am

Mark, In the context of casual conversations, even ones on Sunday mornings, it doesn't appear the IRS guidelines restrict pastors from sharing their personal views. As Rich notes: "The [IRS] Guide acknowledges that the campaign activity prohibition 'is not intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of churches or religious organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals.' Nor are leaders 'prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy.' However, 'religious leaders cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions.' To avoid potential 'attribution' of their comments outside of church functions and publications, 'religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.'" Based on the IRS language, the primary concern would be pastors who make public statements for or against candidates through an official church platform, such as a Sunday sermon or a church newsletter article. It is worth noting that the IRS hasn't taken aggressive action in recent years against activity that might violate its guidelines. However, as Rich also notes in his article, the IRS has suggested it will take a more aggressive role in the future.

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Robin Sands

August 29, 2012  12:44pm

The calling ofthe Church is to spread life changing message of the gospel. When a persons life is transformed by the gospel they will changn, their values will change. This will influence their political thinking and then they will work in political settings. The Church involvement in Politics implies the union of church and state. Our country has separation of church and state. Many countries and areas of our country-Religion and the Government are one.

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Mark Adams

August 28, 2012  9:49am

Let's get down to practicality, this could be taken as a gag order that a pastor is not allowed to express his personal opinions in the area of politicians. To what degree does this just refer to making an official endorsement or officially stating your position against a candidate rather than just sharing your personal beliefs in conversation? If others at church are discussing politics is a pastor not allowed to express his position in the matter under discussion? (I am not referring to doing so in a sermon.)

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