Get The Facts
In recent years, a small but aggressive band of political and religious leaders has pushed to politicize America’s houses of worship. These activists want to turn churches into cogs in a political machine that will elect candidates of their choice. In recent years, the drive has reached a fever pitch.
This misguided campaign is deeply divisive in a pluralistic nation; it blurs the legal lines between political organizations and faith groups and it threatens the integrity of religion.
Federal tax law is clear: Houses of worship and other non-profit groups may not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. The Internal Revenue Service vigorously enforces this provision of the IRS Code.
In 1996, Americans United launched Project Fair Play to educate religious leaders and other Americans about tax exemption and political activity. We send informational letters to clergy, and we file complaints with the IRS when there are egregious violations.
It’s important to understand that federal tax law is not intended to penalize churches and other tax-exempt entities or restrict their free speech rights. The rules are in place simply to distinguish between religious, educational and charitable institutions, which are entitled to tax exemption, and political organizations, which are not. The rules have been upheld by the federal courts.
Religious leaders may freely address political and social issues from the pulpit. But they may not use church resources to endorse or oppose candidates, donate church funds to candidates’ campaigns, issue pulpit endorsements or engage in other activities that have the effect of intervening in an election.
Violations of federal tax law can result in fines, assessment of back taxes and even revocation of tax-exempt status.
But it isn’t just about IRS regulations and federal laws. Pulpit politicking raises other concerns. Simply put, it is not the job of religious leaders to tell people which candidates to vote for. That’s not why people go to a house of worship.
Many religious leaders have publicly rejected the idea that the pulpit should be partisan. In addition, Americans have told pollsters for the Pew Research Center and LifeWay Research that they attend worship for spiritual reasons, not for partisan political engagement. We do not want to see the United States divided into sectarian political blocs, a trend that has troubled so many countries.
Pulpit politicking threatens to divide congregations and communities and replace the theological mission of the church with one focused on partisanship and division.
It’s a bad deal all around.
Study the information on this site and learn what you can do to take action.