Religion, Politics, and the Tax Code

The U. S. Tax Code allows donor tax deductions to religious organizations, but the deduction comes with conditions that require the ministries to limit political activities. The best known condition is the rule against involvement in political campaigns.

Voter Education and Get-Out-the-Vote

The IRS prohibits any voter education and registration effort that specifically favors one candidate or party.

Individual Activity by Leaders

As individuals, church leaders can express their political opinions; however, the tax code prohibits them from making political comments in publications and at functions that their ministry sponsors.

Official Candidate Appearances

When a ministry invites a candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the event is allowed within the rules of the tax code by asking:

  • Did the organization provide the same opportunity to participate to all candidates for the same position?
  • Did the organization indicate its support for or opposition to any of the candidates in any way?
  • Did any political fundraising occur?

When it invites several candidates for the same office to speak at a public event, the IRS asks other questions:

  • Did questions for the candidates come from an unbiased panel?
  • Did the discussion cover a broad range of issues of interest to the public?
  • Did all candidates have an equal opportunity to present their views?
  • Were candidates asked to agree or disagree with ministry-specific positions or statements?
  • Did a moderator comment on the questions or imply approval or disapproval of any candidate?

Unofficial Candidate Appearances

Ministries may invite political candidates to speak in certain situations: i.e., when those who hold a public office are experts in a non-political field or have led notable military, legal, or public service careers. A candidate also may personally choose to attend a ministry event open to the public. If the ministry introduces the candidate or asks the candidate to speak, the IRS determines if the activity fits the rules by asking questions similar to those mentioned previously.

Public Policy Positions

IRS regulations permit religious organizations to take positions on public policy issues that divide candidates. However, they must avoid taking a position that favors or opposes a candidate or party. A church or ministry can violate the regulations simply by showing a picture of the candidate, referring to a political party, or using facts unique to a candidate's platform or biography.

Business Activity

An organization may not sell or rent mailing lists, lease office space, or accept paid political advertising in a way that the tax code prohibits.

Websites

When a ministry posts something on a website that favors or opposes a candidate, the IRS considers it the same as other political statements a religious organization makes. When a church or ministry allows a link to another website, the IRS may hold it responsible for political statements others make on the linked site.

Are You Covered If You're Injured Overseas?
Are You Covered If You're Injured Overseas?

Recently, we learned about two major overseas incidents involving pastors on mission trips. The first incident involved a pastor being hit by a motorcycle while running. The second was a bus accident involving two pastors. The runner and one of the two bus passengers sustained extensive injuries.

Tags: missions, insurance
IRS Announces More Church Audits Regarding ACA Compliance
IRS Announces More Church Audits Regarding ACA Compliance

Last month, the IRS announced that its initiating hundreds of church exams to test compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While many provisions only apply to churches with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), even smaller churches could potentially violate provisions applicable to health benefit plans with as few as 2 plan participants.

Tags: ACA, IRS
July 3, 2019
Celebrate Safely This Independence Day
Celebrate Safely This Independence Day

July 4th is synonymous with food, fun, and fireworks. If your church is planning an event this Independence Day, remember to keep a focus on safety, so that everyone can have fun.

Tags: firework safety
June 28, 2019
Insurance is one of those things we forget about until we need it
Insurance is one of those things we forget about until we need it

National Insurance Awareness Day falls on June 28 this year to remind people everywhere that insurance is vital to their companies and ministries.

Tags: coverage, protect, directors and officers, liability, damages
April 30, 2019
Measles Cases Reach Record-Breaking Numbers
Measles Cases Reach Record-Breaking Numbers

More than 700 confirmed cases of measles have been reported in the United States so far this year, making this outbreak the worst in decades.

Tags: protect, liability, health safety, risk management, measles
April 8, 2019
Vehicle Registration Guidelines for Ministries
Vehicle Registration Guidelines for Ministries

Do you use commercial vehicles that transport more than 15 passengers or carry cargo from one state to another as part of your ministry? If so, you are required to register with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and obtain a USDOT number.

Tags: coverage, protect, directors and officers, liability, damages
March 14, 2019
Returning to Tornado Damaged Areas
Returning to Tornado Damaged Areas

If your ministry buildings become damaged because of a tornado, or if your ministry plans to volunteer to assist with disaster recovery for those affected by these storms, be mindful of the dangers involved.

Tags: damages, property, tornado, weather emergency
June 20, 2018
Check for Safety Before Putting Your Head in The Clouds
Check for Safety Before Putting Your Head in The Clouds

Thinking about taking a group from your ministry ziplining? Be sure to confirm that the site you choose complies with the new Kentucky state law that regulates aerial recreational devices.

Tags: protect, liability, zip lines
June 1, 2018
June Is National Safety Month - Week 1: Emergency Preparedness
June Is National Safety Month - Week 1: Emergency Preparedness

The National Safety Council has designated June as National Safety Month, so we want to make sure your ministry is doing everything it can to protect its people, property, and programs. Each week in June, we’ll tackle a different topic. Up this week: Emergency Preparedness.

Tags: disaster prep, fire prevention, lightning, medical emergency, medical team, storms, weather emergency
April 18, 2018
Collect Online Donations? This New Scam Targets You
Collect Online Donations? This New Scam Targets You

There’s a new scam in town, and ministries and other organizations collecting donations are the primary target. If your ministry collects tithes or donations, you could be targeted by scammers practicing donation overpayment fraud.

Tags: donations, finance, fraud, cyber security
April 9, 2018
Prepare for Medical Emergencies at Church
Prepare for Medical Emergencies at Church

Accidents and medical emergencies happen at church more often than you may think. Knowing how to deal with minor medical injuries, illnesses, and major medical emergencies until first responders arrive can make a big difference.

Tags: protect, medical emergency, safety
February 21, 2018
Remembering Billy Graham
Remembering Billy Graham

Beloved evangelist Billy Graham was called to his heavenly home on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, at the age of 99.

Tags: Billy Graham
February 9, 2018
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation
Flu Is Widespread: Protect Your Congregation

For the first time in its 13 years of influenza monitoring, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that every state in the continental U.S. is seeing widespread flu activity. Get tips on how to keep your congregation healthy this flu season.

Tags: protect, risk, health safety, health, flu
February 2, 2018
More Than 200 Attend Church Security Conference in Paducah
More Than 200 Attend Church Security Conference in Paducah

On January 27, American Church Group of Kentucky and Heartland Church in Paducah hosted a Church Security Conference to help educate ministries on how to protect their people and ministries. The three-and-a-half-hour event was free to attend and offered local churches an opportunity to learn how to develop a safety and security mindset and identify potential gaps in their current safety and security procedures.

Tags: coverage, protect, directors and officers, liability, damages
January 23, 2018
Prayers for Victims of School Shooting & Security Resources for Your Ministry
Prayers for Victims of School Shooting & Security Resources for Your Ministry

We pray for the victims of the shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, KY. How would your church respond in a similar situation?

Tags: coverage, protect, directors and officers, liability, damages
June 19, 2017
Off-Site Youth Activities
Off-Site Youth Activities

Snow skiing. Camping. Whitewater rafting. A youth group trip can give students an exciting diversion from their weekly routines, as well as an opportunity to strengthen healthy friendships. Off-site activities may challenge your students to step outside of their comfort zones a bit, but this can bring about a positive result.

Tags: youth, insurance, safety
June 7, 2017
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip
Insurance Protection Should Accompany Every Mission Trip

If you are in the process of planning a mission trip for your church group, make sure to think carefully about insurance, safety, and security as you hammer out the details. Extra preparation could minimize headaches when your group arrives on the mission field.

Tags: mission insurance, foreign travel, liability, coverage
May 24, 2017
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles
Think Before You Loan Your Ministry's Vehicles

Has your church or school ever been asked to loan one of your vans or buses to another? Before you decide to loan your ministry vehicles to another organization, seriously consider the potential risks associated with such a decision.

Tags: auto insurance, loaning vehicles
March 29, 2017
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?
Has Your Church Completed a Personal Property Inventory?

Completing a personal property inventory of your church or ministry could be one of the wisest activities you can pursue. If disaster strikes and you file an insurance claim, you may need an inventory highlighting damaged items.

Tags: claims, coverage, insurance, property
March 15, 2017
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?
Is Your Ministry as Safe as It Could Be?

Have you thought through potential dangers that may confront your ministry? Taking steps to consider and address these risks provides important protection from injuries, lawsuits, fires, and dozens of other hazards that may affect your ministry, especially your employees and those you serve.

Tags: protect, safety, security, security team, protecting staff members, risk management