July 27, 2008

IRS Reminds Churches Of Tax-Law Prohibition On Partisan Politicking

By Anonymous

The Internal Revenue Service has once again warned houses of worship that federal tax law bans partisan politicking. An April 17 IRS press release reiterates that the tax agency will continue its campaign to educate churches and other tax-exempt charities about the rules governing political activity. The IRS has vowed to enforce the law through appropriate intervention and penalties.

"We take very seriously our obligation to ensure that tax-exempt organizations have the information they need to make the right decisions about political campaign activities," said Steven T. Miller, commissioner of the IRS' Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division. "The vast majority of organizations want to do the right thing, and as in past years, we will continue our efforts to make sure they have the information they need."

The press release notes, "By law, organizations exempt from tax under Internal Revenue Code section 501 (c) (3) may 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.'"

The IRS said it is making extensive efforts to educate 501 (c) (3) organizations, political parties and candidates through its Political Activities Compliance Initiative.

Letters are even being sent, the IRS said, to the national political party committees explaining the law's prohibition regarding charities and churches.

Americans United pointed out that it's up to religious leaders to make certain they follow the law. Candidates seeking votes may look for access to houses of worship, and religious leaders have an obligation to make sure the law is not violated.

Although many Religious Right groups chafe under the IRS regulations, not all conservative religious groups agree. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) recently surveyed evangelical leaders and found most firmly rejecting pulpitbased politicking.

The group asked the CEOs from 60 evangelical churches, universities and affiliated organizations if their "churches advise parishioners who to vote for."

The NAE says most respondents answered, "No!" - actually using an exclamation mark.

NAE President Leith Anderson said in a press release that answers to such survey questions are usually across the board, "but this time was different." Only one out of 60 respondents said he tells parishioners which candidates the church supports.

Copyright Americans United for Separation of Church and State Jun 2008

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