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Government Regulation of Political Speech by Churches

Posted on August 14th, 2013.

This morning the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (the “Commission”), representing the collective work of 80 of the nation’s highly respected religious and nonprofit leaders, presented a 60-page report to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) offering Congress and the Treasury Department new proposals for bringing clarity to current IRS restrictions on political expression by churches and other nonprofit organizations.

After issuing a report to Sen. Grassley on national tax policy for religious and other nonprofit organizations in December, the Commission turned its attention to a Grassley request to address the prohibition against political campaign participation for nonprofits exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The Commission strongly concluded three things:

  • Members of the clergy should be able to say whatever they believe is appropriate in the context of their religious services or their other regular religious activities without fear of IRS reprisal — even when such communication includes content related to political candidates.

Such communications would be permissible provided that the organization does not expend incremental funds in making them.  In other words, as long as the organization’s costs would be the same with or without a political communication, the communication would be permissible.

  • Secular 501(c)(3) organizations should have comparable latitude when engaging in their regular, exempt-purpose activities and communications.
  • Current IRS policy of not permitting tax-deductible funds to be disbursed for political purposes should be preserved – even though many have suggested repeal. – get the 60-page report here

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