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As the 2004 elections approach, and as various groups again begin their intimidation tactics in an effort to silence churches and pastors from speaking out about the great social and moral issues of our time, churches and pastors need clear guidelines for permissible political activities. In response to that need, the James Madison Center for Free Speech and the Alliance Defense Fund are providing these guidelines3 and will respond free of charge to inquiries by churches, pastors, and priests on permissible political activities through informale-mails, telephone advice, and legal opinion letters.4 The Alliance Defense Fund has provided a grant to the James Madison Center for Free Speech for this purpose.

These guidelines summarize the requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act and the Internal Revenue Code as they apply to churches and pastors. These guidelines should not be construed as legal advice regarding your particular situation. Churches and pastors may obtain legal advice free of charge regarding their particular situation by contacting the James Madison Center for Free Speech or the Alliance Defense Fund.

These are guidelines for action, recommended to insure that churches and pastors conform with the law. While the law may allow variations from these guidelines, experience has shown that the safest and best course for churches and pastors is to act in conformance with these recommendations. One caution - - state laws may be more restrictive than these guidelines and, therefore, in applying them to specific situations regarding state candidates or state elections, an attorney should be consulted.

IRS Tax Exempt Status of Churches

Almost all churches are exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code on the basis that they are "operated exclusively for religious, charitable ... or educational purposes."As a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, a church:

(1) is exempt from paying corporate income taxes and donations to it are tax deductible for federal income tax purposes, and

(2) may expend funds for religious, charitable, and educational purposes and an insubstantial amount on lobbying to promote legislation.

A 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, however, may not "participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." Thus, a church may not participate in a political campaign by expenditure of its funds. Still, not all political activity, which would influence an election, falls under this prohibition.

Political Activities

Political activities referred to here are those activities which influence the election of candidates for public office - - most of which are referred to as electioneering. Activities which can influence the election of a political candidate are quite broad and range from contributions to a political candidate to activities such as publishing the voting record of incumbents who are also running for reelection. Only some of these activities are considered active electioneering which cannot be done by a church, but some of this activity can even be done by a 501(c)(3) organization; it depends on the type of activity.

Active electioneering cannot be done by a church. Active electioneering involves actions such as endorsements of candidates and expenditures of funds to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate for political office. Active electioneering is of three basic types: (1) direct contribution, which are monetary contributions given to a candidate; (2) in-kind contributions, which include giving anything of value to a candidate (such as a church mailing list) or paying for a communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate made in coordination with a candidate; and (3) independent expenditures, which are expenditures expressly advocating the election or defeat of a political candidate made without the knowledge of or consultation with any candidate.

Issue-oriented speech can also influence elections. Issue advocacy, however, may not be limited by government and can be freely engaged in by churches. Issue advocacy includes the discussion of issues of public concern, the actions of governmental officials in office, and the positions of candidates on issues. As long as one does not use explicit words expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, one is free to praise or criticize public officials and candidates - - this is called issue advocacy.

Individuals, however, such as pastors or priests, may participate in political campaigns, as long as they do so as individuals, not in the name of the church. Any individual, including a pastor, may wear different hats at different times and, therefore, be involved in political activity, as long as he is wearing the right hat.

The following is a list of activities that may be considered political activities in the broad sense and that a church or pastor, in his individual capacity and using his own funds, may wish to do. A "yes" response means the activity is permissible; a "no" means it is not recommended.


1. James Madison Center for Free Speech, 1 South 6th Street, Terre Haute, IN47807, voice 812-232-2434, fax 812-235-3685,, or e-mail

2. Alliance Defence Fund, 15333 North Prima Road, Suite 165, Scottsdale, AZ 85260,

3. The James Madison Center for Free Speech encourages you to copy and share these guidelines with anyone who may benefit from their use.

4. Requests for a formal legal opinion letter involving substantial legal research are not covered by the grant. If a request falls into this category, the requesting pastor or priest will be notified as soon as possible so that appropriate arrangements can be made to answer this request.
COPYRIGHT 2004 National Right to Life Committee, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Previous Article:Staten Island Living - - Hold the Abortions.
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