In order to maintain their exemption from federal income taxes, churches and other religious organizations must comply with several requirements specified in section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. One of these requirements is that the organization not participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office. Many churches have violated this requirement in the past with no adverse consequences.
However, the landscape is changing. In 1999 the IRS for the first time revoked the exempt status of a church for its involvement in a political campaign, and over the past few years the IRS has made a number of pronouncements indicating that church political activities no longer will be ignored. It is now more important than ever for church leaders to be familiar with the consequences of political involvement.
• Key point. It is absolutely essential for church leaders to understand the ban on church involvement in political campaigns, and evaluate church practices to ensure compliance.
The Legal Basis—Section 501(c)(3)
The legal basis for the limitation on church political activities is section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, which exempts from federal income taxation any church organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, educational, or other 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.