Churches Political Activity & Its Grave Consequences

Why should Churches refrain from Political Campaign Activity?

Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 501c3 organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of excise tax.

Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not constitute prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.

On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that:

  • (a) would favor one candidate over another;
  • (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or
  • (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.

Political activity by religious leaders and church ministers on personal level

The political campaign activity prohibition isn’t intended to restrict free expression on political matters by leaders of churches or religious organizations speaking for themselves, as individuals. Nor are leaders and ministers are prohibited from speaking about important issues of public policy. However, for their organizations to remain tax exempt under section 501c3, religious leaders can’t make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions. To avoid potential attribution of their comments outside of church functions and publications, religious leaders who speak or write in their individual capacity are encouraged to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization.

 Example 1 – Minister A is the minister of Church J and is well known in the community. With their permission, Candidate T publishes a full-page ad in the local newspaper listing five prominent ministers who have personally endorsed Candidate T, including Minister A. Minister A is identified in the ad as the minister of Church J. The ad states, “Titles and affiliations of each individual are provided for identification purposes only.” The ad is paid for by Candidate T’s campaign committee. Since the ad was not paid for by Church J, the ad is not otherwise in an official publication of Church J, and the endorsement is made by Minister A in a personal capacity, the ad doesn’t constitute political campaign intervention by Church J.

 Example 2 – Minister B is the minister of Church K and is well known in the community. Three weeks before the election, he attends a press conference at Candidate V’s campaign headquarters and states that Candidate V should be re-elected. Minister B doesn’t say he is speaking on behalf of Church K. His endorsement is reported on the front page of the local newspaper and he is identified in the article as the minister of Church K. Because Minister B didn’t make the endorsement at an official church function, in an official church publication or otherwise use the church’s assets, and did not state that he was speaking as a representative of Church K, his actions didn’t constitute political campaign intervention by Church K.

Example 3 – Minister C is the minister of Church I. Church I publishes a monthly church newsletter that is distributed to all church members. In each issue, Minister C has a column titled “My Views.” The month before the election, Minister C states in the “My Views” column, “It is my personal opinion that Candidate U should be re-elected.” For that one issue, Minister C pays from his personal funds the portion of the cost of the newsletter attributable to the “My Views” column. Even though he paid part of the cost of the newsletter, the newsletter is an official publication of the church. Because the endorsement appeared in an official publication of Church I, it constitutes political campaign intervention by Church I.

Example 4 – Minister D is the minister of Church M. During regular services of Church M shortly before the election, Minister D preached on a number of issues, including the importance of voting in the upcoming election, and concluded by stating, “It is important that you all do your duty in the election and vote for Candidate W.” Because Minister D’s remarks indicating support for Candidate W were made during an official church service, they constitute political campaign intervention by Church M.

Social Issue Advocacy vs . Political Campaign Intervention

Like other Section 501c3 organizations, some churches and religious organizations take positions on public policy issues, including issues that divide candi- dates in an election for public office. However, 501c3 organizations must avoid any issue advocacy that functions as political campaign intervention. Even if a statement does not expressly tell an audience to vote for or against a specific candidate, an organization delivering the statement is at risk of violating the political campaign intervention prohibition if there is any message favoring or opposing a candidate.

A statement can identify a candidate not only by stating the candidate’s name but also by other means such as showing a picture of the candidate, referring to political party affiliations or other distinctive features of a candidate’s platform or biography. All the facts and circumstances need to be considered to determine if the advocacy is political campaign intervention.

Key factors in determining whether a communication results in political campaign intervention include:

  • whether the statement identifies one or more candidates for a given public office,
  • whether the statement expresses approval or disapproval for one or more candidates’ positions or actions,
  • whether the statement is delivered close in time to the election,
  • whether the statement makes reference to voting or an election,
  • whether the issue addressed in the communication has been raised as an issue distinguishing candidates for a given office,
  • whether the communication is part of an ongoing series of communications by the organization on the same issue that are made independent of the timing of any election, and
  • whether the timing of the communication and identification of the candidate are related to a non-electoral event such as a scheduled vote on specific legislation by an officeholder who also happens to be a candidate for public office.

A communication is particularly at risk of political campaign intervention when it makes reference to candidates or voting in a specific upcoming election. Nevertheless, the communication must still be considered in context before arriving at any conclusions.

Example 1 – Church O, a Section 501c3 organization, prepares and finances a full-page newspaper advertisement that is published in several large circulation newspapers in State V shortly before an election in which Senator C is the incumbent candidate for nomination in a party primary. The advertisement states that a pending bill in the United States Senate would provide additional opportunities for State V residents to participate in faith-based programs by providing funding to such church-affiliated programs. The advertisement ends with the statement “Call or write Senator C to tell him to vote for this bill, despite his opposition in the past.”

Funding for faith-based programs hasn’t been raised as an issue distinguishing Senator C from any opponent. The bill is scheduled for a vote before the election. The advertisement identifies Senator C’s position as contrary to O’s position. Church O has not violated the political campaign intervention prohibition. The advertisement doesn’t mention the election or the candidacy of Senator C or distinguish Senator C from any opponent. The timing of the advertising and the identification of Senator C are directly related to a vote on the identified legislation. The candidate identified, Senator C, is an officeholder who is in a position to vote on the legislation.

Example 2 – Church R prepares and finances a radio advertisement urging an increase in state funding for faith-based education in State of California, which requires a legislative appropriation. Governor E is the governor of State of California. The radio advertisement is first broadcast on several radio stations in State of California beginning shortly before an election in which Governor E is a candidate for re-election. The advertisement is not part of an ongoing series of substantially similar advocacy communications by Church R on the same issue. The advertisement cites numerous statistics indicating that faith-based education in State of California is under funded. Although the advertisement doesn’t say anything about Governor E’s position on funding for faith-based education, it ends with “Tell Governor E what you think about our under-funded schools.”

In public appearances and campaign literature, Governor E’s opponent has made funding of faith-based education an issue in the campaign by focusing on Governor E’s veto of an income tax increase to increase funding for faith-based education. At the time the advertisement is broadcast, no legislative vote or other major legislative activity is scheduled in the State of California legislature on state funding of faith-based education. Church R has violated the political campaign prohibition. The advertisement identifies Governor E, appears shortly before an election in which Governor E is a candidate, is not part of an ongoing series of substantially similar advocacy communications by Church R on the same issue, is not timed to coincide with a non-election event such as a legislative vote or other major legislative action on that issue, and takes a position on an issue that the opponent has used to distinguish himself from Governor E.

Example 3 – Candidate A and Candidate B are candidates for the state senate in District W of State of California. The issue of State of California funding for a faith-based indigent hospital care in District W is a prominent issue in the campaign. Both candidates have spoken out on the issue. Candidate A supports funding the care; Candidate B opposes the project and supports increasing State of California funding for public hospitals instead. P is the head of the board of elders at Church C, a Section 501c3 organization located in District W. At C’s annual fundraising dinner in District W, which takes place in the month before the election, P gives a long speech about health care issues, including the issue of funding for faith-based programs. P doesn’t mention the name of any candidate or any political party.

However, at the end of the speech, P states, “For those of you who care about quality of life in District W and the desire of our community for health care responsive to their faith, there is a very important choice coming up next month. We need more funding for health care. Increased public hospital funding won’t make a difference. You have the power to respond to the needs of this community. Use that power when you go to the polls and cast your vote in the election for your state senator.” C has violated the political campaign intervention prohibition as a result of P’s remarks at C’s official function shortly before the election, in which P referred to the upcoming election after stating a position on a prominent issue in a campaign that distinguishes the candidates.

Inviting a Political Candidate to Speak by Churches

Depending on the facts and circumstances, a church or religious organization may invite political candidates to speak at its events without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status. Political candidates may be invited in their capacity as candidates, or individually (not as candidates). Candidates may also appear without an invitation at organization events that are open to the public.

–Speaking as a candidate

Like any other IRC Section 501c3 organization, when a candidate is invited to speak at a church or religious organization event as a political candidate, factors in determining whether the organization participated or intervened in a political campaign include:

  • whether the church provides an equal opportunity to the political candidates seeking the same office,
  • whether the church indicates any support of or opposition to the candidate. This should be stated explicitly when the candidate is introduced and in communications concerning the candidate’s appearance,
  • whether any political fundraising occurs,
  • whether the individual is chosen to speak solely for reasons other than candidacy for public office,
  • whether the organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere on the premises
  • or at the event where the candidate is present, and
  • whether the organization clearly indicates the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and does not mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.

Equal opportunity to participate. Like any other Section 501c3 organization, in determining whether candidates are given an equal opportunity to participate, a church or religious organization should consider the nature of the event to which each candidate is invited, in addition to the manner of presentation. For exam- ple, a church or religious organization that invites one candidate to speak at its well attended annual banquet, but invites the opposing candidate to speak at a sparsely attended general meeting, will likely be found to have violated the political campaign prohibition, even if the manner of presentation for both speakers is otherwise neutral.

–Public forum

Sometimes a church or religious organization invites several candidates to speak at a public forum. A public forum involving several candi- dates for public office may qualify as an exempt educational activity. However, if the forum is operated to show a bias for or against any candidate, then the forum would be prohibited campaign activity, as it would be considered intervention or participation in a political campaign.

When a church invites several political candidates to speak at a church forum, it should consider:

  • whether questions for the candidate are prepared and presented by an independent nonpartisan panel;
  • whether the topics discussed by the candidates cover a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought and are of interest to the public;
  • whether each candidate is given an equal opportunity to present his or her views on the issues discussed;
  • whether the candidates are asked to agree or disagree with positions, agendas, platforms or statements of the organization; and
  • whether a moderator comments on the questions or otherwise implies approval or disapproval of the candidates.

A candidate may seek to reassure the church that it’s permissible for the church to do certain things in connection with the candidate’s appearance. An organization in this position should keep in mind that the candidate may not be familiar with the organization’s tax-exempt status and that the candidate may be focused on compliance with the election laws that apply to the candidate’s campaign rather than the federal tax law that applies to the organization. The organization will be in the best position to ensure compliance with the prohibition on political campaign intervention if it makes its own independent conclusion about its compliance with federal tax law.

The following are examples of situations where a church or religious organization invites candidates to speak before the congregation.

Example 1 – Minister E is the minister of Church N, a Section 501c3 organization. In the month prior to the election, Minister E invited the three Congressional candidates for the district in which Church N is located to address the congregation, one each on three successive Sundays, as part of regular worship services. Each candidate was given an equal opportunity to address and field questions on a variety of topics from the congregation. Minister E’s introduction of each candidate included no comments on their qualifications or any indication of a preference for any candidate. The actions do not constitute political campaign intervention by Church N.

Example 2 – The facts are the same as in Example 1 except there are four candidates in the race rather than three, and one of the candidates declines the invitation to speak. In the publicity announcing the dates for each of the candidate’s speeches, Church N includes a statement that the order of the speakers was deter- mined at random and the fourth candidate declined the church’s invitation to speak. Minister E makes the same statement in his opening remarks at each of the meetings where one of the candidates is speaking. Church N’s actions do not constitute political campaign intervention.

Example 3 – Minister F is the minister of Church O, a Section 501c3 organization. The Sunday before the election, Minister F invited Senate Candidate X to preach to her congregation during worship services. During his remarks, Candidate X stated, “I am asking not only for your votes, but for your enthusiasm and dedication, for your willingness to go the extra mile to get a very large turnout on Tuesday.” Minister F invited no other candidate to address her congregation during the Senatorial campaign. Because these activities took place during official church services, they are by Church O. By selectively providing church facilities to allow Candidate X to speak in support of his campaign, Church O’s actions constitute political campaign intervention.

Speaking as a non-candidate at the request of a church

Like any other Section 501c3 organization, a church or religious organization may invite political candidates (including church members) to speak in a non-candidate capacity. For instance, a political candidate may be a public figure because he or she:

  • (a) currently holds, or formerly held, public office;
  • (b) is considered an expert in a non-political field; or
  • (c) is a celebrity or has led a distinguished military, legal or public service career.

A candidate may choose to attend an event that is open to the public, such as a lecture, concert or worship service. The candidate’s presence at a church-sponsored event does not, by itself, cause the organization to be involved in political campaign intervention.

However, if the candidate is publicly recognized by the organization, or if the candidate is invited to speak by the church, factors in determining whether the candidate’s appearance results in political campaign intervention include:

  • whether the individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
  • whether either the individual or any representative of the church makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election,
  • whether any campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance,
  • whether the individual is chosen to speak solely for reasons other than candidacy for public office,
  • whether the organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere on the premises or at the event where the candidate is present, and
  • whether the organization clearly indicates the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and doesn’t mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.

In addition, the church or religious organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and shouldn’t mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.

Below are examples of situations where a public official appears at a church or religious organization.

Example 1 – Church P, a Section 501c3 organization, is located in the state capital. Minister G customarily acknowledges the presence of any public officials present during services. During the state gubernatorial race, Lieutenant Governor Y, a candidate, attended a Wednesday evening prayer service in the church. Minister G acknowledged the Lieutenant Governor’s presence in his customary manner, saying, “We are happy to have worshiping with us this evening Lieutenant Governor Y.” Minister G made no reference in his welcome to the Lieutenant Governor’s candidacy or the election. Minister G’s actions do not constitute political campaign intervention by Church P.

Example 2 – Minister H is the minister of Church Q, a Section 501c3 organization. Church Q is building a community center. Minister H invites Congressman Z, the representative for the district containing Church Q, to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the community center. Congressman Z is running for re-election at the time. Minister H makes no reference in her introduction to Congressman Z’s candidacy or the election. Congressman Z also makes no reference to his candidacy or the election and does not do any fundraising while at Church Q. Church Q has not intervened in a political campaign

Example 3 – Church X is a Section 501c3 organization. Church X regularly publishes a member newsletter. Individual church members are invited to send in updates about their activities, which are printed in each edition of the newsletter. After receiving an update letter from Member Q, Church X prints the following: “Member Q is running for city council in Metropolis.” The newsletter does not contain any reference to this election or to Member Q’s candidacy other than this statement. Church X has not intervened in a political campaign.

Example 4 – Mayor G attends a concert performed by a choir of Church S, a Section 501c3 organization, in City Park. The concert is free and open to the public. Mayor G is a candidate for re-election, and the concert takes place after the primary and before the general election. During the concert, Church S’s minister addresses the crowd and says, “I am pleased to see Mayor G here tonight. Without his support, these free concerts in City Park would not be possible. We will need his help if we want these concerts to continue next year so please support Mayor G in November as he has supported us.” As a result of these remarks, Church S has engaged in political campaign intervention.

Voter Education, Voter Registration and Get-Out-the-Vote Drives

Section 501c3 organizations are permitted to conduct certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) if they are carried out in a non-partisan manner. In addition, Section 501c3 organizations may encourage people to participate in the electoral process through voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, conducted in a non-partisan manner. On the other hand, voter education or registration activities conducted in a biased manner that favors (or opposes) one or more candidates is prohibited.

Like other Section 501c3 organizations, some churches and religious organizations undertake voter education activities by distributing voter guides. Voter guides, generally, are distributed during an election campaign and provide information on how all candidates stand on various issues. These guides may be distributed with the purpose of educating voters; however, they may not be used to attempt to favor or oppose candidates for public elected office.

A careful review of the following facts and circumstances may help determine whether a church or religious organization’s publication or distribution of voter guides constitutes prohibited political campaign activity:

  • whether the candidates’ positions are compared to the organization’s position,
  • whether the guide includes a broad range of issues that the candidates would address if elected to the office sought,
  • whether the description of issues is neutral,
  • whether all candidates for an office are included, and
  • whether the descriptions of candidates’ positions are either:
    –the candidates’ own words in response to questions, or
    –a neutral, unbiased and complete compilation of all candidates’ positions.

The following are examples of situations where churches distribute voter guides.

Example 1 – Church R  distributes a voter guide prior to elections. The voter guide consists of a brief statement from the candidates on each issue made in response to a questionnaire sent to all candidates for governor of State I. The issues on the questionnaire cover a wide variety of topics and were selected by Church R based solely on their importance and interest to the electorate as a whole. Neither the questionnaire nor the voter guide, through their content or structure, indicate a bias or preference for any candidate or group of candidates. Church R is not participating or intervening in a political campaign.

Example 2 – Church S distributes a voter guide during an election campaign. The voter guide is prepared using the responses of candidates to a questionnaire sent to candidates for major public offices. Although the questionnaire covers a wide range of topics, the wording of the questions evidences a bias on certain issues. By using a questionnaire structured in this way, Church S is participating or intervening in a political campaign.

Example 3 – Church T  sets up a booth at the state fair where citizens can register to vote. The signs and banners in and around the booth give only the name of the church, the date of the next upcoming statewide election and notice of the opportunity to register. No reference to any candi- date or political party is made by volunteers staffing the booth or in the materials available in the booth, other than the official voter registration forms which allow registrants to select a party affiliation. Church T is not engaged in political campaign intervention when it operates this voter registration booth.

Example 4 – Church C’s activities include educating its members on family issues involving moral values. Candidate G is running for state legislature and an important element of her platform is challenging the incumbent’s position on family issues. Shortly before the election, Church C sets up a telephone bank to call registered voters in the district in which Candidate G is seeking election. In the phone conversations, Church C’s representative tells the voter about the moral importance of family issues and asks questions about the voter’s views on these issues. If the voter appears to agree with the incumbent’s position, Church C’s representative thanks the voter and ends the call. If the voter appears to agree with Candidate G’s position, Church C’s representative reminds the voter about the upcoming election, stresses the importance of voting in the election and offers to provide transportation to the polls. Church C is engaged in political campaign intervention when it conducts this get-out-the-vote drive.

When a political activity also becomes a business activity

The question of whether an activity constitutes participation or intervention in a political campaign may also arise in the context of a business activity of the church or religious organization, such as the selling or renting of mailing lists, the leasing of office space or the acceptance of paid political advertising. (The tax treatment of income from unrelated business activities follows.) In this context, some of the factors to be considered in determining whether the church or religious organization has engaged in prohibited political campaign activity include:

  • whether the good, service or facility is available to the candidates equally;
  • whether the good, service or facility is available only to candidates and not to the general public;
  • whether the fees charged are at the organization’s customary and usual rates;
  • and whether the activity is an ongoing activity of the organization or is conducted only for the candidate.

Example 1 – Church K owns a building that has a large basement hall suitable for hosting dinners and receptions. For several years, Church K has made the hall available for rent to the public. It has standard fees for renting the hall based on the number of people in attendance. A number of different organizations have rented the hall. Church K rents the hall on a first come, first served basis. Candidate P’s campaign pays the standard fee for the dinner. Church K isn’t involved in political campaign intervention as a result of renting the hall to Candidate P for use as the site of a campaign fundraising dinner.

Example 2 – Church L maintains a mailing list of all its members. Church L has never rented the mailing list to a third party. The campaign committee of Candidate A, who supports funding for faith-based programs, approaches Church L and offers to rent Church L’s mailing list for a fee that is comparable to fees charged by similar organizations. Church L rents the list to Candidate A’s campaign committee, but declines similar requests from campaign committees of other candidates. Church L has intervened in a political campaign.

Political activities on Churches’ websites

The Internet has become a widely used communications tool. Section 501c3 organizations use their own websites to disseminate statements and information. They also routinely link their websites to websites maintained by other organizations as a way of providing additional information that the organizations believe is relevant to the public.

A website is a form of communication. If an organization posts something on its website that favors or opposes a candidate for public office, the organization will be treated the same as if it distributed printed material, oral statements or broad- casts that favored or opposed a candidate.

An organization has control over whether it establishes a link to another site. When an organization establishes a link to another website, the organization is responsible for the consequences of establishing and maintaining that link, even if the organization doesn’t have control over the content of the linked site. Because the linked content may change over time, an organization may reduce the risk of political campaign intervention by monitoring the linked content and adjusting the links accordingly.

Links to candidate-related material, by themselves, do not necessarily constitute political campaign intervention. All the facts and circumstances must be taken into account when assessing whether a link produces that result. The facts and circumstances to be considered include, but are not limited to, the context for the link on the organization’s website, whether all candidates are represented, any exempt purpose served by offering the link and the directness of the links between the organization’s website and the Web page that contains material favoring or opposing a candidate for public office.

Example 1 – Church P maintains a website that includes biographies of its ministers, times of services, details of community outreach programs and activities of members of its congregation. B, a member of Church P’s congregation, is running for a seat on the town council. Shortly before the election, Church P posts the following message on its website, “Lend your support to B, your fellow parishioner, in Tuesday’s election for town council.” Church P has intervened in a political campaign.

Example 2 – Church N maintains a website that includes staff listings, directions to the church and descriptions of its community outreach programs, schedules of services and school activities. On one page of the website, Church N describes a particular type of treatment program for homeless veterans. This section includes a link to an article on the website of O, a major national news- paper, praising Church N’s treatment program for homeless veterans. The page containing the article on O’s website doesn’t refer to any candidate or election and has no direct links to candidate or election information.

Elsewhere on O’s website, there is a page displaying editorials that O has published. Several of the editorials endorse candidates in an election that hasn’t yet occurred. Church N has not intervened in a political campaign by maintaining a link on O’s website because the link is provided for the exempt purpose of educating the public about its programs; the context for the link, the relation- ship between Church N and O and the arrangement of the links going from Church N’s website to the endorsement on O’s website don’t indicate that Church N was favoring or opposing any candidate.

Example 3 – Church M maintains a website and posts an unbiased, nonpartisan voter guide. For each candidate covered in the voter guide, Church M includes a link to that candidate’s official campaign website. The links to the candidate websites are presented on a consistent neutral basis for each candidate, with text saying “For more information on Candidate X, you may consult [URL].” Church M has not intervened in a political campaign because the links are provided for the exempt purpose of educating voters and are presented in a neutral, unbiased manner that includes all candidates for a particular office.

Consequences of Political Campaign Activity for Churches

When it participates in political campaign activity, a church or religious organization jeopardizes both its tax-exempt status under IRC Section 501c3 and its eligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions. In addition, it may become subject to an excise tax on its political expenditures. This excise tax may be imposed in addition to revocation, or it may be imposed instead of revocation. Also, the church or religious organization should correct the violation.

Excise tax – An initial tax is imposed on an organization at the rate of 10 percent of the political expenditures. Also, a tax at the rate of 2.5 percent of the expenditures is imposed against the organization managers (jointly and severally) who, without reasonable cause, agreed to the expenditures knowing they were political expenditures. The tax on management may not exceed $5,000 with respect to any one expenditure.

In any case in which an initial tax is imposed against an organization, and the expenditures are not corrected within the period allowed by law, an additional tax equal to 100 percent of the expenditures is imposed against the organization. In that case, an additional tax is also imposed against the organization managers (jointly and severally) who refused to agree to make the correction. The additional tax on management is equal to 50 percent of the expenditures and may not exceed $10,000 with respect to any one expenditure.
Correction. Correction of a political expenditure requires the recovery of the expenditure, to the extent possible, and establishment of safeguards to prevent future political expenditures.

Please note that a church or religious organization that engages in any political campaign activity also needs to determine whether it complies with the appropriate federal, state or local election laws, as these may differ from the requirements under IRC Section 501c3.

Church Substantial Lobbying Activity

In general, no organization, including a church, may qualify for IRC Section 501c3 status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). A  501c3 organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.

Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive offices), or by the public in a referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment or similar procedure. It doesn’t include actions by executive, judicial or administrative bodies.

A church or religious organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation.

Churches and religious organizations may, however, involve themselves in issues of public policy without the activity being considered as lobbying. For example, churches may conduct educational meetings, prepare and distribute educational materials, or otherwise consider public policy issues in an educational manner without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status.

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