When an election season approaches, churches may question whether or not they can participate in political campaign activities or advocate for a particular cause. Churches may hesitate to play an active role in political issues because they fear that participation will result in a violation of their tax-exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service’s guidelines. While churches should follow the guidelines, they are not excluded from participating in political activities. An area where churches are permitted—even encouraged—to play a role is the area of promoting civic engagement.
The following IRS guidelines outline the civic activities in which churches are permitted to engage. Before churches proceed, they should refer to these guidelines to find out what activities they are permitted to do without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.
“Section 501(c)(3) organizations are permitted to conduct certain voter registration activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) if they are carried out in a nonpartisan manner,” the IRS states. This means that under the IRS guidelines, churches may:
- Participate in voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives
- Distribute voter education guides
- Host candidates during public forums
Using these guidelines as a reference for what activities are permissible, churches can take steps to become active citizens in their communities and find specific ways to reach out to their respective communities to encourage political participation.