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People of faith have been engaged in virtually every social reform movement throughout American history. Religious individuals and houses of worship have the right and responsibility to take part in important public debates. While the constitution and other laws protect that right, tax regulations that govern nonprofit entities, including houses of worship, bring legal restrictions.
 

Religious organizations, like other nonprofits that receive special tax treatment under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) that allow donors to deduct donations, are restricted from intervening in political campaigns and dedicating a substantial part of their activities to attempting to influence legislation. That does not mean that they cannot speak out on the social, moral and ethical policy issues of the day. Churches may not, however, support or oppose candidates for office without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. This restriction includes a prohibition on endorsements or opposition for a candidate from the pulpit.

As Christians and citizens, we are called to work toward a just society. Protecting the institutional separation of church has never meant silencing the faithful. Instead, we should advocate as responsible citizens in compliance with the law or work to change the laws. The tax laws that currently apply to non-profits are designed to protect the charitable purposes of the organizations and integrity of the tax code, without unnecessarily infringing on the free speech and religious rights of individuals.

In recent years, the Internal Revenue Service has increased enforcement and issued improved guidance to help tax-exempt organizations avoid implicit endorsements. In Congress, there have been several recent legislative attempts to change the rules for churches, allowing endorsements of political candidates from the pulpit without threatening churches' tax-exempt status. Some advocates have even encouraged violation of the electioneering rule, seeking judicial review of the IRS regulation. While we recognize that some tough cases will arise, the BJC supports the current IRS rules as striking the right balance between protections for individuals and tax-exempt entities.

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