Praying for a Tax Break: Churches, Political Speech and the Loss of Section 501(C)(3) Tax Exempt Status
51 Pages Posted: 22 May 2008 Last revised: 4 Jun 2008
Churches in the United States, like individuals, are free to speak on any issue that they choose. However, if a church wishes to retain tax-exempt status, it must comply with the requirements of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. One of those requirements is that churches may not participate or intervene in political campaigns. Some churches, however, believe that their mission includes not just traditional religious teachings, but guidance on issue that affect the lives of their parishioners including politics. Those churches believe they are fulfilling their faith and mission when they offer this guidance.
This has caused a tension between the Internal Revenue Service, which must enforce the tax laws, and churches that feel that it is part of their mission to speak out on social issues of the day, which may include political issues. With the 2008 U.S. Presidential election already in full swing, this issue has become more visible and more contentious.
This paper examines the issues involved in churches, political speeches and tax-exempt status. It will propose that a limited exception be created for churches so that they may speak freely on all issues to their congregants, including politics, during regularly scheduled religious services.
Keywords: Religion, Tax, Constitutional Law
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