You are here

Can a pastor discuss politics from the pulpit?

Your Legal Questions Answered

Can a pastor discuss politics from the pulpit?

Can a pastor discuss politics from the pulpit? If so, how far can he/she go. Can a pastor have political events at his home as a private citizen?

Assuming that you are talking about meetings and discussions about political candidates, rather than policy and legislation, you are playing in a dangerous area. All charities, including churches, can lose their charitable exempt status by participating in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates at any level of government. The IRS has an expansive view of participation.
In general and very simplistic terms, a pastor may not discuss the merits of candidates from the pulpit, but may support a candidate as an individual citizen away from the church, so long as there is no suggestion that it is an official action of the church. The IRS issued an extensive set of guidance in 2006 when it reported that about 3/4 of the 82 cases in which it had concluded investigations from the 2004 election cycle had involved participation in an election campaign, many involving churches. The IRS revoked exemptions of three for such electioneering, fined another, and gave warnings to the rest. The guidance was subsequently promulgated as a Revenue Ruling (Rev. Rul. 2007-41) so that charities may rely upon it as the official position of the IRS. (See Nonprofit Issues®, March 1-15, 2006 and Ready Reference Page: “IRS Guidance Has Not Changed on Electioneering.”)
In May, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order intended to protect religious leaders who speak out on political issues.  (See: "Trump Signs Executive Order on Religious Political Activity")  It was signed while Congress was considering bills to eliminate the so-called Johnson Amendment entirely.  (See Commentary: "Keep Charities Out of Politics")
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Add new comment

Sign-up for our weekly Q&A; get a free report on electioneering