Pastors Unite Against IRS Tax Code Restrictions on Political Speech in the Pulpit

Are American pastors free to share their political views from the pulpit? The answer to this question is complex. While some issues can certainly be discussed, there are also government-sanctioned limitations on partisan preaching (especially if churches expect to keep their tax-exempt status).
A regulation added to the IRS code back in 1954 has muddied the waters for pastors, creating a scenario in which some leaders are too fearful of federal consequences to exercise their right to free speech from the pulpit.
With pastors unsure of just how far they can take their partisan comments about specific candidates, some religious leaders find themselves purposefully avoiding the subject — a result that has potentially led to a decline in church education on issues of great social and political importance.
As faith influences an individual’s take on social and political issues, one wonders why religious leaders face restrictions on speech that is so intertwined with personal religious beliefs.
The fear and uncertainty that some faith leaders experience is driven by the aforementioned ban on political campaign activity that was instituted on both charities and churches, alike, nearly 60 years ago. It was back in 1954 that Congress approved of what has become known as the “Johnson Amendment.” The provision, which still stands today, explicitly prohibits 501(c)(3) organizations (churches and charities) from engaging in campaign activity.
Rather than declining in prevalence over time, this regulation has been strengthened. The last change was made to it back in 1987, when the amendment’s language was tightened to clarify that the restrictions should also cover statements and stances that stand against candidates (previously it was interpreted to only stand for statements that supported specific candidates). The IRS describes a 501(c)(3) as a group:
“which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”
Since religious leaders — be they liberal or conservative — are legally restricted in recommending or railing against specific political candidates, silence, for some, has likely been the response. This has created an environment under which some leaders feel that they cannot remain true to their personal beliefs and convictions. CONTINUE

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