Political Activity by Churches
Helpful guidance in an election year.

Helpful guidance in an election year

Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code exempts from federal income taxes a church or religious organization organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes, and "no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office."

Note that there are two limitations. First, churches may not engage in substantial efforts to influence legislation. Second, churches may not participate or intervene in any political campaign, even to an insubstantial degree, on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Violation of the second limitation (often called the "campaign" limitation) may result in revocation of exempt status and the imposition of excise taxes. The IRS tax guide for churches explains this important limitation as follows:

Churches and religious organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.

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