Kristin Wernig, Staff Writer
On September 28, 2008, pastors all over the country took to the pulpit to protest the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) restriction on political activity by tax exempt organizations.1 Although the form of protest is new, the battle over the restriction has been waged since its inception in 1954.
Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) restricts the political activity of certain tax exempt organizations by allowing them to retain their tax-exempt status so long as they do 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.”2 Churches fall under the (c)(3) category along with other organizations “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition . . . or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.”3 In 1987, the section was amended to clarify that the prohibition applied to activities in opposition to, as well as on behalf of, any candidate for public office.4 The political activity restriction is absolute; the IRS need not consider whether the activity constituted a substantial part of the church’s actions.5 The statute does not offer much insight as to what activities are prohibited. These organizations must rely on the guidance available in the various IRS revenue rulings and publications and cases.
Since its inception in 1954, churches have battled over the political activity restriction. Throughout history, because of the special roles churches hold in society, they have been accorded special treatment under the IRC. Proponents argue that this special treatment should continue to the political activity restriction. Numerous proposals have been introduced into the Congress to allow for this special treatment. However, a proposal has not yet received the necessary votes. Continue reading