Blog Template Theology of the Body: Can We Do That?! The Church and Political Activity

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Can We Do That?! The Church and Political Activity

With respect to Fr. Nelson's stimulating post below, and with regard to a few other recent conversations about the proper interaction of Church and State, I've decided to pull up some notes from my course in non profit organizations in law school. Fr. Nelson implicitly raises the question of what political action pastors and congregations can rightfully take without incurring the penalty of the removal of their tax exempt status. As the law in the USA stands, there is a fairly broad scope for the Church's political activity... as it should be. (This post should in no way be taken as legal advice. I'm required to say that)

A church may not engage substantial political activity: no substantial participation in spreading propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation; no participation or intervention in any political campaign.

If you want your organization to serve a political purpose, you need to apply for 501(c) (4) status.

Legislation: 501(c) (3) of the Tax Code states that a tax exempt church cannot attempt to influence legislation through lobbying. But this prohibition on lobbying does not apply to:

1. Executive Orders
2. Regulations
3. Judicial Appointments
4. Public Opinion

BUT, the lobbying in question cannot relate to a particular piece of legislation. "Lobbying" is legally defined as either 1) Direct Lobbying (contacting legislative bodies directly) or 2) Grassroots Lobbying (encouraging the general public to influence legislation.) Furthermore, the church's lobbying activities cannot rise above 5% of the church's total activity threshold, although there is no clear standard.

With regard to political campaigning, churches are absolutely prohibited from participating or intervening on behalf of or in opposition to a particular candidate. In particular, a church cannot rank one candidate against another because the law finds that ratings, by their very nature, necessarily reflect the philosophy of the organization conducting such activities. However, the legal prohibition applies only to candidates. A candidate is legally defined as a person who has made an announcement as to his intention to run for office according to the requirements of state law.

What can churches always do to promote a political purpose?

They can educate their voters. (Hello, Magisterium)