Political guideline for pastors and churches

Friday, 31 October 2008
It happens near every election.  Anti-religious organizations attempt to scare people of faith into not discussing public policy as it impacts moral issues.  People of faith do not scare that easily, but that doesn’t keep Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State from cluttering mailboxes and fax machines.  

In response, Mathew Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law said, “Lynn’s attempt to scare pastors is as hollow as a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern.  The truth is that pastors and church leaders do not need to violate IRS regulations on political activity in order to impact the 2008 election.  There are a wide variety of permissible activities to activate voters and encourage them to vote their values.”

While churches may not endorse or oppose candidates for elective office, pastors can preach on biblical and moral issues, such as abortion and traditional marriage, can urge the congregation to register and vote, and can overview the positions of the candidates.  Churches may distribute nonpartisan voter guides (which can identify the policy positions of all candidates), register voters, hold candidate forums and introduce visiting candidates.

Since 1954, when the political endorsement/opposition prohibition was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), only one church has ever lost its IRS letter ruling, but even that church did not lose its tax-exempt status.  ImageChurches, unlike other nonprofit organizations, do not need an IRS letter ruling to be tax-exempt.  That case involved the Church at Pierce Creek in New York, which placed full-page ads in USA Today and the Washington Times opposing then-Governor Bill Clinton for President.  The ads were sponsored by the church and donations were solicited.  The IRS revoked the church’s letter ruling but not its tax-exempt status.

The church sued, and the court ruled that churches are tax-exempt without an IRS letter ruling.  The court noted that "because of the unique treatment churches receive under the IRC, the impact of the revocation is likely to be more symbolic than substantial."  Not even this church lost its tax-exempt status, and not one donor was affected by this incident.

Churches may promote and endorse pending legislation or marriage amendments or initiatives.  The only limitation is that churches not devote more than a "substantial" part of their overall activity to lobbying.  Since 1934, when the lobbying restriction was added to the IRC, not one church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for engaging in too much lobbying.  This is not surprising, considering that, with all the other meetings and activities undertaken regularly, churches would have to lobby constantly in order to violate the lobbying restriction.

"Pastors should throw away the muzzle of fear and replace it with a megaphone of boldness. It was sermons of pastors that fueled the American Revolution.  America needs her pastors to once again speak up and address the religious and moral issues of the day.  Pastors can preach biblical truths and educate their congregations about the critical moral issues at stake in this election without violating any IRS rules. America is at a crossroads and her pastors must address the moral issues of our day," Staver said.

Liberty Counsel has voter guides suitable for distribution in churches available at http://www.lc.org/.

Last Updated ( Friday, 31 October 2008 )