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What is Legal for a Church or Pastor to do Politically?
We often get questions from individuals and from pastors, asking exactly what is legal for a church to do in the political arena. It is a good question, because over the years, the ACLU and other anti-Christian organizations have led a campaign to threaten and intimidate churches and pastors, to try and force them to stay out of politics. One of their main threats is that if a church participates in political activity, they will lose their tax exempt status from the IRS.
This is not only not true, but it is a hollow threat. It is perfectly legal for churches to participate in political issues, and I know of no church that has ever been stripped of their tax exempt status. Never!
But to make sure pastors and churches stay on the right side of the law, following are the guidelines from our national website. But remember, I am not an attorney and I am not giving legal advice. Please consult an attorney to verify the guidelines listed below.
For Pastors

Is That Legal?
Good question! Many are confused about what is and what is not legal given the IRS restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt organizations. While it is impossible to lay out a definitive list of do’s and don’ts since the IRS interprets what is and isn’t legal, the resource below is offered for general guidelines:

Legal Dos and Don’ts – Pastor:
Preach on moral and social issues and encourage civic involvement.
Yes
Endorse candidates on behalf of the church.
No
Engage in voter registration activities that avoid promoting any one candidate or particular political party.
Yes
Use church funds or services (such as mailing lists or office equipment) to contribute directly to candidates or political committees.
No
Distribute educational materials to voters (such as voter guides), but only those that do not favor a particular candidate or party and that cover a wide range of issues.
Yes
Permit the distribution of material on church premises that favors any one candidate or political party.
No
Conduct candidate or issues forums where each duly qualified candidate invited and provided an equal opportunity to address the congregation.
Yes
Use church funds to pay fees for political events.
No
Set up a political committee that would contribute funds directly to political candidates.
No
Allow candidates to solicit funds while speaking in a church.
No
Invite candidates or elected officials to speak at church services. Churches that allow only one candidate or a single party’s candidate to speak can be seen as favoring that candidate or party. No candidate should be prohibited from addressing a church if others running for the same office have been allowed to speak. Exempt from this are candidates or public figures who may speak at a church, but they must refrain from speaking about their candidacy.
Yes
Note: These are guidelines only and are not to be used as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified attorney. They are taken from www.iVoteValues.com and were adapted from research developed by Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice; www.aclj.org. and Mathew D. Staver, Liberty Council; www.lc.org.
For Churches

Is That Legal?
Good question! Many are confused about what is and what is not legal given the IRS restrictions on political activity by tax-exempt organizations. While it is impossible to lay out a definitive list of do’s and don’ts since the IRS interprets what is and isn’t legal, the resource below is offered for general guidelines:

Legal Dos and Don’ts – Churches:

Sermons on moral and social issues and civic involvement
Yes
Endorsing or opposing political candidates
No
Educate on political process and political/social/legislative issues
Yes
Contributions to Political Action Committees
No
Distribution of candidate surveys and incumbent voting records (avoid editorial opinions and make sure they cover a wide range of issues)
Yes
Church bulletin editorial where the pastor or staff member endorses or opposes a candidate
No
Encourage members to voice their opinions in favor or in opposition to certain legislation
Yes*
Campaigning for candidates
No
Discuss biblical instruction pertaining to moral and cultural issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.
Yes
Fundraising for candidates
No
Support or oppose judicial, department, or cabinet appointments
Yes
Granting use of name to support a political candidate
No
Support or oppose other political appointments of non-elected officials
Yes
Support or oppose judicial candidates
No
Use of church facilities by political candidates (as long as all other candidates are allowed or invited)
Yes
Contributions to political candidates
No
In-kind and independent expenditures for or against political candidates
No
Petition drives supporting or opposing legislation
Yes
Support or oppose legislation unrelated to the church organization
Yes*
Support or oppose legislation that directly relates to the organization
Yes**
Engage in voter registration activities that avoid promoting any one candidate or particular political party.
Yes
*Churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations may support or oppose legislation so long as such activity comprises an insubstantial part of the overall operation. 501(c)(4) organizations may support or oppose legislation without any limitations.**A church or any other 501(c)(3) organization may without limitation support or oppose legislation that directly affects the organizational structure and operation. For example, a church may without limitation oppose legislation attempting to repeal the tax exempt status of the church.

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