Political participation can prove risky for churches


By Interpreter magazine

Churches and religious organizations qualify for exemption from federal income tax, and are generally eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

However, there are ways churches may jeopardize or even lose this status, and one is a concern each election season. Mississippi holds its presidential caucuses on March 11.

According to the IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations, churches must not “participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

But there are more “dos” than “don’ts” regarding churches’ political activity.

Churches can:

• Discuss issues, provided the discussion does not exhibit preferences for or against specific candidates.

• Distribute voter-education materials and sponsor “get out the vote” campaigns.

• Host a candidate if all other candidates are invited.

• Serve as a polling place.

• Invite a candidate in a non-official capacity, such as a ground breaking ceremony, provided the person is not introduced as a candidate, no mention is made of his or her candidacy and the event is not promoted as an appearance by “Candidate X.”

• Lobby for certain issues, provided the time spent in this endeavor is “insubstantial” compared to other church activities.

• Rent out their property to candidates or political parties provided the space is not provided for free or for a discount not offered to anyone else.

Churches cannot:

• Openly take sides in an issue, specifically espousing or denouncing the views of any particular candidate.

• Distribute materials biased toward or against a particular candidate, or distribute materials provided by a candidate or political party.

• Raise money for a candidate or political party.

• Clergy members may take sides for or against a candidate or issue provided they are doing so in an individual capacity, not as a church representative.

They may not use the pulpit, church publications or any other forum related to the church to declare their individual preferences.


On the Web

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