Churches & Public Policy Attorney in Louisville, KY

Churches and other religious organizations are organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which grants them tax-free status. However, this status also places restrictions on the activities and publications of these organizations. Specifically, they cannot endorse or criticize a candidate for public office.

Under the Johnson Amendment of 1954, 501(c)(3) organizations cannot “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.”

That's pretty clear: no partisan campaigning. But what about social issues and advocacy? Can churches and other tax-exempt organizations speak out on the issues of the day, whether it be race relations, economic inequality, or other topics that invariably have a political undertone?

Chris Sanders Law PLLC works side by side with faithful people in Louisville, Kentucky, and around the country to address and arrive at solutions for the pressing issues that church and other organizations wish to have a voice in. Whether you’re involved in a church, a social activist group, a business, or a concerned individual, contact me and we can devise a compliant strategy.

What Can Churches Do in
The Social-Political Arena?

While the prohibition against getting involved in support of or opposition to any partisan political candidate is crystal clear, this does not preclude church leaders and members from voicing their political opinions outside the church, i.e., speaking solely for themselves.

Directly, as an organization, nonpartisan efforts are permissible during campaign season. Voter registration, voter education, and get-out-the-vote drives are permissible, so long as these don't turn into advocacy for or against any candidate. Non-partisan forums, in which candidates discuss their positions and answer questions, are also permitted, provided the program is not slanted for or against any individual politician.

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on Important Issues?

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The prohibitions against supporting or opposing politicians or proposed legislation, however, do not prevent a church or any other 501(c)(3)'s from discussing and providing forums for the pressing issues of the day, provided – again – that they do not engage in partisanship. “Vote for B because he supports our position” would be prohibited, so would B’s attendance at a forum on the subject unless B’s opposing candidate, A, were also present and treated equally.

When it comes to legislation, a church is prohibited from engaging in “substantial” lobbying, but “insubstantial” advocacy is permissible. The rule of thumb is a cap of 5% of revenues and expenditures. 

A 501(c)(3) organization other than a church can make a “501(h) election,” permitting up to 20 percent of its budget on lobbying. There is a budgetary cap of $500,000 a year, however, leaving less than $100,000 available. A church cannot make a 501(h) election, so it must show that its lobbying efforts were minimal and “insubstantial.”

Issue Advocacy

The IRS only prohibits church activities and publications that are openly partisan and endorse or oppose certain candidates and pieces of legislation. However, this still leaves the door open for a robust discussion of social issues and advocacy for solutions (so long as they are not openly partisan or political) if they are done in a nonpartisan manner.

Church leaders and members do not need to sit silent as issues of social and racial injustice fill the airways and infuse coffee shop discussions everywhere. Church leaders and members should make common cause in the public square with like-minded organizations.

It’s time for all of us to team up with people who believe together. Please call on me for legal advice, strategy, or consulting. 

Churches & Public Policy Attorney in Louisville, KY

If you’re concerned about social issues in Louisville, Kentucky, and around the country, get in contact with me at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. I have the experience and resources you need. We do more together than apart. If your church or faith organization is in need of legal assistance or strategic advice, reach out to my office immediately. I’m here to help in whatever way I can.