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Project Fair Play


Our Work To Educate Religious Leaders
& Ensure Enforcement Of The Law

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Project Fair Play


Our Work To Educate Religious Leaders
& Ensure Enforcement Of The Law

Religious leaders may freely address political and social issues from the pulpit. They just may not use their faith communities’ resources to endorse or oppose candidates, donate funds to candidates’ campaigns, or engage in other activities that have the effect of intervening in an election. 

Project Fair Play educates religious leaders and other Americans about the rules that apply to political activity by tax-exempt organizations. In addition, the Project reports egregious violations of the law to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and encourages the IRS to enforce the law that prohibits houses of worship from endorsing and opposing candidates and political parties. 

Pulpit politicking threatens to divide faith communities and erode the important boundary between church and state that make each distinct. It’s a bad deal all around.

We agree with Faith Leaders from across the theological and political spectrum: Let's keep sacred spaces sacred. 

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Educating Faith Communities


AU Sponsors Special Clergy Trainings
Around The Country

Educating Faith Communities


AU Sponsors Special Clergy Trainings
Around The Country

Trainings for Religious Leaders

In recent years, Americans United has prioritized holding trainings with members of the clergy (and lay leaders at houses of worship). Accordingly, AU now sponsors special clergy trainings around the country. These meetings give clergy an opportunity to meet with experts from the Americans United staff for an interactive, hands-on session with plenty of time for questions, as well as to collaborate and learn from fellow religious leaders.

These sessions, titled “Keeping Sacred Spaces Sacred: A Discussion on Pulpit Politicking,” are facilitated discussions designed to lead to a deeper understanding of the role that faith communities can take in public engagement. The workshops take a positive stance, urging participants to envision what faithful and constructive public engagement looks like and how faith communities can engage in advocacy and organizing without causing others harm or violating the tax rules. The goal is to equip clergy and lay leaders with useful, practical information about what they can do politically, in the hope of channeling energies into appropriate forms of activism that engage congregations while respecting the laws of the land.


Watch: November 2016 Facebook Live Discussion with Faith Leaders


Letters to Religious Leaders

Every presidential election and mid-term election year, Americans United sends letters to houses of worship nationwide advising them on how to follow the law on pulpit politicking. The letters note that there are plenty of activities that religious leaders can take part in during elections years, such as registering voters in a non-partisan fashion, addressing important issues and reminding congregants that voting is good civic behavior. The only activity that is not permitted is the endorsement or opposition of candidates. (The letter also warns against the distribution of biased “voter guides,” often produced by partisan organizations that are not tax-exempt, that clearly promote one candidate over another.)

In 2016, we sent 100,000 letters to clergy from a cross section of U.S. religious denominations in all 50 states, explaining the "do's and dont's" when it comes to elections. 

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Enforcement


Showing The IRS That This Issue Is Of Concern
To A Growing Number Of Americans

Enforcement


Showing The IRS That This Issue Is Of Concern
To A Growing Number Of Americans

Reporting Violations to the IRS

Although Americans United’s emphasis is always on educating clergy, lay leaders and congregants in the hopes of heading off violations of the “no-politicking” law, there are, unfortunately, instances every year of blatant violations of the law. Some of these are due to a lack of knowledge about the law, but most are not. A large Religious Right group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has been prodding pastors to openly violate the law. Every election year, ADF hosts a mis-named event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” during which pastors are urged to endorse or oppose candidates during sermons.

In cases of clear violations of the law, Americans United has in the past sent complaints to the Internal Revenue Service. In recent years, we have urged the individuals who have contacted us with examples of pulpit politicking to file their own complaints, pointing them to a form on the IRS website that can be used for this purpose. The idea is to show the IRS that this issue is of concern to a growing number of Americans and that they want to see the law enforced.


Encouraging The IRS to uphold the law

Americans United has been working diligently for decades to encourage the Internal Revenue Service to fully enforce the law that prohibits partisan pulpit politicking. In 1992, AU filed a complaint against a church in New York that had placed a full-page ad in a newspaper telling people not to vote for Bill Clinton for president. That church subsequently had its tax-exemption revoked. In the wake of that incident, several other houses of worship received warnings from the IRS over instances of endorsement of or opposition to candidates for public office.

For a number of reasons, enforcement has slowed since then. Americans United continues to encourage the IRS to step up enforcement. (The tax agency says enforcement mechanisms are in place.) In the most recent development, Americans United launched a petition effort that seeks to persuade the IRS to crack down on blatant violation of the law.