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The Rights of Churches and Political Involvement

Since the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which authorized Congress to impose a federal income tax, Congress has consistently granted churches and religious organizations special exemptions from paying taxes and for receiving tax-deductible contributions. However, if a church or religious organization wishes to qualify for and maintain this tax-exempt status, it must abide by the restrictions on political and legislative activities established in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (as amended).2 Section 501(c)(3) includes two stipulations: first, no substantial part of the organization's activities may consist of carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation; and second, the organization may not participate in political campaigning in opposition to, or on behalf of, any candidate for public office.


In light of how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and some courts have interpreted section 501(c)(3) [see discussion below], churches and religious organizations may well consider this law as yet another example of the government's subordination of the rights of religious persons to "matters of national public policy" or to other rights.5 Understanding section 501(c)(3), however, is necessary for any church that wishes to positively impact the moral and social fabric of our culture. Achurch must decide whether it can be a viable and influential force in society within the constraints of section 501(c)(3) or whether it should forego the benefits of tax-exemption in order to participate unreservedly in the legislative and
political process.

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