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Politically active on your church website? Kiss your tax exemption goodbye!

In case you didn’t know, since 1954 there has been a federal ban on political activity for tax exempt, 501(c)(3) organizations such as charities and churches.  A lesson Atlah World Ministries may be learning the hard way when this past February, pastor James David Manning stood in the pulpit of his little church on 123rd Street in Harlem and denounced Senator Barack Obama as a “pimp” … an event that soon afterward went viral on YouTube.

Now, according to the NY Times, a watchdog group the church’s tax exempt status may be at risk after a formal complaint from “a watchdog group.”

Another example is a case concerning the United Church of Christ (UCC) whom back in 2006 invited Barack Obama to its annual Synod in Hartford Connecticut in 2007. Before the Senator’s appearance, the Synod made it clear that this shouldn’t be a campaign event – none-the-less it got politicized  – inspiring an investigation by the IRS.

There are other such stories, easy enough to find, but my point here is not to aggregate such stories but rather to remind pastors, church web masters and even Sunday school teachers that they need to take a moment and make sure everyone is aware of the July 28, 2008 memorandum from the Director, Exempt Organizations Examinations, describing how the IRS will analyze political campaign activity issues involving websites of section 501(c)(3) organizations.

In it you’ll see that it’s not just overt acts like the reckless and financially suicidal ‘die by the sword‘ “Pulpit Initiative”  launched by the Alliance Defense Fund, but things that can occur in the normal operation of your church and/or charity website such as:

  • podcasting a sermon that favors a candidate
  • posting a Sunday school lesson that opposes a candidate
  • distributing emails that props up one candidate over another
  • links to another website that endorses a candidate
  • fails to monitor a link that subsequently endorses a candidate

At least that’s this layperson’s, non-legal, untrained understanding of the IRS Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations and what they communicate on their websites.

That said, and with my likely ignorance of some aspect of the law in mind, I’ll list below some links to sites that seem smarter than me on this tricky topic:

And from the blogosphere … these thoughts:

Remember, violating this ban may result in denial or revocation of your organization’s tax-exempt status and the imposition of an excise tax on the amount of money spent on the activity …

… that and the loss of the many freebies and discounts your church currently enjoys with its 501(c)(3) status (think Google Apps for starts).

10 Comments

  1. Am I wrong in assuming that contributions to a church that loses 501(c)(3) status are not tax-deductible?

    This would put a hitch in the get-along of collecting contributions from some church members, I’m willing to bet.

  2. Pingback: Politically active on your church website? Kiss your tax exemption goodbye! | blogs4God

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  4. Churches should violate this ban – en masse. The IRS cannot impose rules that supercede the constitution, specifically the first amendment. Churches are not taxed because they are not profit-seeking institutions. To tax them would be double-taxation, and that is why they were given 501(c)3 status in the first place.

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  8. This is wrong. It is not a violation to have a political say on your church website or in church with a tax exempt status. This is a ploy to try to get the church to be silent on important issues and is wrong. Research this for your self. Truth.

  9. Please view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09BqPDiHYb8

    Make an informed decision re: 501(c)(3) status. WARNING: once the Lord has opened your eyes, failure to listen will be on you.