Church Activity


FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION
SUMMARY OF PERMITTED CHURCH LOBBYING ACTIITIES

Churches may participate in certain political and lobbying activities without fear of losing their tax exempt status.  The limitations and guidelines that apply to those activities are summarized below:

What Churches May Never Do:

Churches are prohibited under any circumstances from endorsing, supporting, or campaigning for any candidate for public office.   But so long as the church’s political activities do not amount to endorsing or supporting a candidate for office, such actions are permitted to the extent described below.  For example:

  • Churches are permitted to praise or criticize the position of any candidate or elected official on any legislative issue so long as they do not also call for a vote for or against that candidate or official. 
  • Based upon free speech principles, pastors are permitted to personally endorse, support, or campaign for candidates for public office.  They may even do so from the pulpit so long as they clearly state that they are doing so as an individual and not on behalf of the church.

What Churches Can Do:

A church may engage in political activities (other than endorsing or supporting candidates for public office) so long as it does so in a manner that is “insubstantial” in comparison with the total ministry efforts of that church.  Such permitted efforts may include teaching and preaching on political issues and legislation of interest to the church.  They may include exhortations to the church members to support or oppose specific legislation and to contact their legislators to encourage them to support or oppose specific legislation.  So long as such political efforts remain “insubstantial” as compared to the church’s other ministry efforts, the church’s tax exempt status will not be jeopardized by those efforts.

Although IRS has not adopted a hard-and-fast standard defining at what point a church’s total political efforts become substantial, court decisions place that point in the range between 5% and 15% of the total church activities.  In view of the thousands of hours typically spent each year by church staff and volunteers on ministry matters, this provides an opportunity for significant involvement in the political and legislative process.  It permits churches to encourage members to give feet to their faith by applying their beliefs to the practical issues arising in the legislature.

Marriage Amendment Activities:

With these principles in mind, pastors and churches in Idaho may be confident that they may actively speak out in support of Idaho’s marriage protection amendment.  They may preach on the scriptural and social issues presented by the definition of “marriage” in the state of Idaho.  They may encourage their members to contact their legislators asking them to support the bill that would protect the traditional definition of “marriage” as only being between “one man and one woman.”  They may do these things so long as such activities do not exceed 5% (and perhaps as much as 15%) of the church’s total ministry efforts.


For more in-depth discussions of this issue, please view the materials on the internet at:

http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=122887,00.html
http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=120703,00.html
http://www.azpolicy.org/assets/pdf/PMAChurchLetter.pdf
http://priestsforlife.org/elections/symposiumbopp.htm