UCC General Counsel Issues Guidelines For Church Political Activities
By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
The United Church of Christ's General Counsel issued a memo today (March 3) for Conference Ministers to distribute to churches, reminding them that they can endanger their tax exempt status by engaging in "activities that are considered to be political campaign interventions."
"With election year in full swing, the Office of General Counsel offers a reminder that organizations which are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code may not engage in activities that are considered to be political campaign interventions," the memo states. "A church’s tax-exempt status is a valuable asset and should not be jeopardized."
The memo explains that churches may take positions on public policy issues, including issues that may be addressed by candidates in an election. Churches, however, must not make statements that favor or oppose any candidate. Also, some communication may still be considered to be a political campaign intervention even if it does not identify a specific candidate by name.
The memo states that pastors and church leaders are not restricted from their own right to free expression, but that they "“cannot make partisan comments in official organization publications or at official church functions.” Such publications include not only church newsletters and websites, but church Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages. The IRS encourages pastors and other church leaders who speak or write in their individual capacities about political campaigns “to clearly indicate that their comments are personal and not intended to represent the views of the organization” which they serve.
The memo also gives specific guidelines for candidate appearances at a church, and for accepting business - such as political ads - from a candidate.