In the lead up to the 2020 election—which many in both major American political parties are referring to as among the most important in our lifetimes—it is understandable that leaders of churches may feel the itch to lend their influence to the fray by endorsing a particular candidate. Some may even consider it a moral imperative. It is, after all, part of a religious leader’s function to help the members of their congregation flourish within the society in which they live—and an important part of doing so is helping that congregation to shape society to the extent it is able.
Yet churches are placed within the conundrum of the national taxation system, in which the US government has determined they are to be considered tax exempt organizations … except when they support or oppose political candidates for office.
Whle confusion reigns in many area of tax law as applied to political campaigns, one area that is clear is that pastors and preachers retain their First Amendment rights and may speak their consciences on the political and moral situations facing the nation. Pastors and church leaders may support or oppose candidates in their personal capacity and may even identify themselves by their pastoral title. The church leader should take care that the personal endorsement is not an official act of the Church.
Recently, legal scholars and advocacy groups have called into question the constitutionality of some of the restrictions in the Johnson Amendment and have pointed out that current Federal tax law can curtail the free exercise of religion and the free speech rights of religious organizations. There is, thus, a tension between current tax law and the Constitution. While churches must proceed with caution in this area, they should not give up their constitutional rights either.
Provident Law’s nonprofit attorneys can help churches and religious organizations to avoid crossing the line out of tax exemption. We stand ready to counsel and serve churches, charities and foundations, as well as private schools, colleges, universities and other types of nonprofit organizations—providing broad transactional and general counsel services in Arizona and surrounding areas. Contact us to learn more.