You Ask, We Answer: Election Year Do's and Don'ts for Churches Webinar Q&A (Part II)being there // on Tuesday October 18, 2016
While many churches and other nonprofit organizations like to get involved in political activity, they must be cautious when doing so. If a church or nonprofit organization gets involved in the wrong way, that involvement could potentially harm the group's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. This topic was discussed in a recent webinar held by GuideOne Insurance and Church Executive.
As a follow up to our previous blog post on October 13, below are the answers to more questions that were asked during our Election Year Do’s and Don’ts for Churches webinar. All questions have been answered by our guest speakers David Middlebrook and John Anthony of Anthony and Middlebrook and the Church Law Group.
Q: Is a pastor/paid church leader who distributes political tweets or Facebook posts (which denounce or endorse a candidate) from a “personal account” (which they also use to make official church announcements) in violation of the ban on churches from participating in political campaigning activities?
A: It is a concern because it gives rise to confusion. Even if the candidate is able to substantiate it is not a violation of the rule, there is the possibility of confusion and question as to how he got the followers and if the account is promoted by the church. It can become a muddy situation that could cause problems as it is a cross between personal and church activities.
Q: Can clergy endorse a proposition without any issue of endangering the congregation’s status?
A: The entity may produce material, or speeches, regarding limited legislative activity – but not involving a candidate.
Q: I guess one question I have concerns candidates in some churches. I hear I am not to be partisan on the candidates, but I see several news reports of candidates speaking in churches. How does that work?
A: Candidates may speak in a church so long as all candidates are invited. Churches are encouraged to give an open invitation to all candidates and let the public know that the same invitation was sent to all candidates, however, only a certain few showed up.
Q: We are in CA, which has local and state ballot measures. Is it ok to endorse or campaign for a ballot proposition rather than a person?
A: Yes, so long as it is not a substantial amount of the organization’s activities.
Q: Can churches or church leaders try to find a way to legally oppose groups like the NCAA for moving playoffs out of certain states in an effort to punish them for their bathroom policies?
A: The NCAA is not a candidate in an election; therefore, it can be opposed publicly.
Q: Our church supports background checks on all gun purchases. Is this okay? And we align ourselves to outside organizations that help us in shaping issues that commonly affect our communities.
A: Yes, so long as the Church is not engaging in political activity with a candidate, and your efforts are not a substantial amount of your activities.
Q: Can a church website, paid for by the church, link to a personal website where the pastor is communicating about political matter, including making an endorsement?
A: In this case, church funds may consider being used to endorse a candidate, which would be prohibited.
Q: You guys stated earlier that a pastor can say in “his opinion” this is the person he would vote for, but now it says he can’t do it from the pulpit? Is my understanding correct?
A: The IRS is looking at if it is a church sponsored function or not when the statement is made. If he is speaking from the pulpit, then it is a church-sponsored event and therefore is not permitted. Even if they say they are standing up there in their individual capacity, they are still at a church-sponsored event and therefore it is not permitted.
Q: Is it okay in the absence of any candidate for a pastor to express his political views or support for a particular party or candidate?
Q: Many political issues are also social justice issues for the religious community (i.e. living wages, equality, stewardship of God’s world). Does this mean that during political campaigns we must avoid addressing these or it is fine as long as we connect it to scripture?
A: No, the prohibition is related to specific candidates for elected office.
Q: Similar to the question above, what if a member of the church comes and promotes a particular candidate in the lobby or hands out flyers promoting a certain candidate. Allowed?
A: Leadership should discourage such activity, as a member’s activities could be seen as the church’s activities.
Q: How do some of the candidates work it so that they themselves can speak from the pulpit of a congregation without the other candidate present?
A: Many times churches will invite both candidates, but only one will accept.
Q: Can a pastor emphasize Biblical values as the primary guide/consideration regarding politics when those values delineate whether a candidate conforms to them?
A: Generally yes, so long as candidates are not specified. However, certain topics may so delineate a candidate; the IRS would prohibit such topics from being addressed.
Interested in learning more about this timely topic? A full recording of this webinar is now available to view, download and share.