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We are living at a time when the assault on the family, churches, morals and the unborn is accelerating. Yet many religious leaders may remove themselves from the crucial public dialogue on moral issues because of uncertainty regarding the separation of church and state. But that concept was not intended to censor the church and its leaders. Our churches and people of faith have an obligation to be the “salt and light” in keeping with the laws and Constitution of the United States.

Social issues desperately needing the voice of reason and guidance are the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia.

Right to Life of Michigan is dedicated to educating the general public on these issues and getting laws passed that protect the unborn, those with disabilities and the elderly. The following information demonstrates the right way for churches to take action on these life issues.

 

Mission Statement

Right to Life of Michigan is a nonpartisan, nonsectarian, nonprofit organization of diverse and caring people united to protect the precious gift of human life from fertilization to natural death.

We strive to achieve the passage and ratification of a Human Life Amendment, to educate people on identified Right to Life issues, to motivate them to action, to encourage community support for and participation in programs and legislation that foster respect and protection for human life.

We work on behalf of defenseless or vulnerable human beings, born and unborn, within our identified issues of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

 

Pastor and Church Guidelines for Political Activities

Following are some basic guidelines to ensure that pastors and churches conform with the law.

IRS Tax Exempt Status of Churches
Churches are exempt under Section 501 (c)(3) of the IRS Code on the basis they are “operated exclusively for religious, charitable . . . or educational purposes.” As such, a church:

  1. is exempt from paying corporate income taxes, and donations to it are tax deductible
  2. may expend funds for religious, charitable and educational purposes to other 501 (c)(3) organizations, like the RLM Ed Fund, which is a 501 (c)(3).
  3. may contribute an insubstantial amount to social welfare 501 (c)(4) organizations, like RLM which is a 501 (c)(4) organization.

A 501 (c)(3) exempt organization, however, may not “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” Thus a church may not participate in a political campaign by expenditure of funds. Not all political activity which would influence a political campaign falls under this prohibition. It depends on the activity.

Direct political activity cannot be done by a church. This activity involves actions such as endorsements of candidates and expenditures of funds to support or oppose a candidate for political office. Political expenditures are of three types:

  1. direct contributions where funds or things of value are given (i.e., lists of church members)
  2. in-kind contributions, which are political expenditures made in consultation with or without the knowledge of the candidate
  3. independent expenditures, which are expenditures advocating the election or defeat of a political candidate made without the knowledge of or consultation with any candidate

Individuals such as pastors, may participate in political campaigns as long as they do so as individuals; not in the church’s name. The following is a list of activities that may be considered political in the broadest sense and that a church or pastor may or may not do.

 

Activity Church Pastor
  Endorse political candidates No Yes
  Contribute to candidates No Yes
  In-kind expenditures to candidates No Yes
  Independent expenditures No Yes
  Contribute to political action committees No Yes
  Pay expenses to attend state or national convention caucus No Yes
  Distribute candidate surveys Yes Yes
  Distribute candidate voting records Yes Yes
  Distribute candidate political statement No Yes
  Distribution by others of candidate political statement in parking lot Yes N/A
  Contribute to RLM & RLM Ed Fund Yes Yes
  Non-partisan voter education and registration Yes Yes
  Church Bulletin:
   
    Political Ads at regular rate Yes N/A
    News stories Yes N/A
    Editorials No N/A


Pastors, as individuals, have the same rights as all other citizens to involve themselves in political activity. The following should guide the pastor:

  1. a pastor may individually and personally endorse candidates, but not on behalf of the church
  2. a pastor may allow his/her name to be used as a supporter of a candidate in political advertisements. In this connection, the pastor may be identified as pastor of a particular church

Flyers: Distribution of flyers is protected by the First Amendment. Anyone may freely distribute political flyers on public property including streets and sidewalks and public facilities. This includes distribution on private property if this property has been opened to public use. Thus, distribution would be allowed in most church parking lots. However, before distribution is made on this private property, permission from the owner/church should be sought to avoid any potential problems or concerns by the owner/church. This is common courtesy.

 

WHAT CHURCHES MAY DO

  1. Provide church family with information concerning prolife issues and legislation
  2. Distribute voting records and candidate surveys in accord with IRS neutrality rules
  3. Rent a church mailing list (at market value) to a candidate
  4. Publish an ad in the church bulletin for all who ask, provided the ad is purchased at regular ad rates
  5. Publish news stories on candidates, campaigns and third-party endorsements of candidates
  6. Host candidate forums where all are invited and treated impartially
  7. Invite political candidates to church services or meetings. If candidates are invited, other candidates for the office must be given the same opportunity if requested. No church representative may endorse or solicit funds for any candidate.
  8. Prepare and distribute materials (polls, surveys, etc.) that educate the church family as long as there is no endorsement of a candidate, expressed or implied.
  9. Participate in ballot referendums and issue-oriented activity incidental to their religious objectives (e.g., campaign to end tax-funded abortions), spending not to exceed an “insubstantial amount of the total expenditures for religious purposes.”
  10. Donate to organizations such as RLM which supports legislation on human life issues and the RLM Educational Fund whose purpose is to educate the public on life issues.


WHAT CHURCHES MAY NOT DO

  1. Endorse political candidates
  2. Contribute to political candidates or political action committees (PACs)
  3. Participate in fund raising projects for political candidates
  4. Make an outright donation of a mailing list to a political candidate
  5. Sell a political ad at a discount rate if no other advertisers are offered discounts
  6. Distribute a candidate’s political literature
  7. Pay to attend a state or national political convention caucus
  8. Make in-kind or independent expenditures in favor of or against candidates
  9. Publish the response to a survey under the control, direct or indirect, of a candidate
  10. Include any words in publishing a church-sponsored survey that the reader should “vote prolife.” Advocacy of one-issue voting should be reserved for other issues of a church bulletin when a survey with specific candidate names is not included.
  11. Publish the response of candidates to a church questionnaire or survey using a “+” or “-” or “prolife” and “anti-life” or in any way specify which candidate you prefer. This does not preclude a church from reporting on surveys or endorsements from outside organizations such as Right to Life of Michigan or the RLM-PAC.

 

Special Note: Federal and state laws differ in some cases, depending on the situation. Therefore, you should always consult your local counsel for specific cases. The “May Do” and “May Not Do” lists are only general guidelines for you to follow. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offers this quick reference guide of federal tax law and procedures for churches and religious organizations to highlight responsibilities in regard to political activity.



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