Two things we’re told to not discuss are religion and politics. Of course, churches are going to talk about religion. But can they talk about politics, according to the IRS?
With elections coming soon, here’s what churches CAN do and still maintain tax-exempt status:
– Insubstantial lobbying – To keep your tax-exempt status, lobbying activity must be kept to a minimum expenditure and must not be a substantial part of the church’s activities. ‘Not substantial’ would be a very low percentage of activities. Unfortunately, the IRS has failed to define ‘insubstantial,’ so consult an attorney if you have a question. Examples of lobbying that may be allowable by a church, are attempting to influence legislation considered by Congress, state legislature, or at local and municipal levels. Also keep in mind that anyone who feels the church has violated these requirements may file a complaint with the IRS on Form 13909.
– General advocacy on issues – Examples of safe topics include community involvement, responsible citizenship, and non-partisan voter education activities. However, churches must not mention specific elections or candidates.
– Candidate appearances – If a church wants to hear from candidates, all must be given an equal opportunity to participate, and they must not give political speeches. This is a tricky area, so it’s best to seek legal advice before proceeding to invite candidates running for office.
And, here’s what churches CAN’T do:
– Electioneering – Churches cannot endorse or oppose specific candidates or political parties. This includes making contributions or distributing campaign materials.
– Express political opinion from the pulpit – As private citizens, pastors can be involved in political campaigns, but they must never cross the line and express political opinions in any official capacity – written or verbal.
Thanks to a friend of our firm, attorney Brook Asiatico, for bringing our attention to this important subject in her monthly newsletter. You can subscribe to the Asiatico & Associates PLLC newsletter at www.baalegal.com