Current law prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, from endorsing or opposing candidates. This protects them from being used as partisan political campaign offices or a means of funneling money to political candidates.
The campaign intervention ban protects the integrity of houses of worship. Changing the law would:
Transform houses of worship into political action committees, fundamentally changing their character and diminishing the distinctive role of houses of worship.
Threaten religious groups’ “prophetic voice”–their ability to speak truth to power as political outsiders.
Divide congregants and set houses of worship against each other along political lines.
Current law protects the independence of houses of worship. Houses of worship often speak out on issues of justice and morality and do good works within the community, but may also labor to adequately fund their ministries.
Permitting electioneering in houses of worship would give partisan groups incentive to use congregations as a conduit for political activity and expenditures, and some may pressure houses of worship to make endorsements and contributions. This pressure may be particularly acute if the church is associated with groups that accept government money through grants or contracts.
Changing the law would also make charities and houses of worship vulnerable to individuals and corporations who could offer large donations and then demand they take a position on a candidate.
Pastors and other religious leaders can already preach or speak out on any issue and can endorse or even become candidates in their personal capacity.
Houses of worship can engage in lobbying on issues and legislation, host candidate forums, engage in voter registration drives, distribute answers to candidate questionnaires, encourage people to vote, help people get to the polls, and endorse or oppose non-partisan referendum on issues of concern. Religious organizations are also free to renounce their (c)(3) status if they find it too restrictive.
Current law protects taxpayers and the intent behind the charitable tax deduction.
Tax-exempt status is designed to ease the financial burden on organizations that operate for religious, educational, and charitable purposes. If 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed to engage in political endorsements, they essentially become PACs rather than organizations performing those functions. If the law were changed to allow electioneering by houses of worship, individuals and corporations could continue to take a tax deduction for their donations to (c)(3)s even if those funds were then funneled to partisan activities. Current law simply prevents groups from trying to be both tax-exempt ministries and partisan political operations at the same time.
Electioneering by houses of worship is deeply unpopular.
According to surveysconducted over the last several years, the vast majority of Americans believe houses of worship should not endorse or oppose candidates.
For all of these reasons, we support current law and oppose its repeal. We also oppose proposals that fall short of a full repeal of the prohibition but still undermine existing protections. Legislation that would inject an “insubstantial” standard or allow electioneering if it is in furtherance of an organization’s mission would risk significant government intrusion and scrutiny. Maintaining a clear and total prohibition against campaign intervention is important to the free exercise of religion